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TONY MCMANUS - Mysterious Boundaries

TONY MCMANUS - Mysterious Boundaries
Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX376

The boundaries here are those between Classical music and the Celtic music with which this guitar maestro is usually associated. Challenged to learn Bach’s E Major prelude (having heard and admired it played on mandolin), he did so and that was only the start of it! This is the result of his challenging journey to engage with music he had long appreciated but considered outside his scope, a whole album of solo guitar renditions of Classical works spanning the 13th to late 19th centuries.

In reality, the chosen material is substantially Baroque. Over half of the recorded time is pieces by J S Bach, mainly partita for solo violin, and appropriately of course, the enigmatic Les Barricades Mystérieuses by French organist and harpsichordist François Couperin, book-ends the selection, the final reprise being played on baritone guitar within the register of the Baroque lute.

Outside this period he presents the medieval hymn Pange Lingua by Thomas Aquinas, Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi’s Nigra Sum, a Spanish dance by Granados (Villanesca) and a particularly pleasing interpretation of French avant-gardiste Erik Satie’s Gnossienne #1.

Rich in clarity and prevailing elegance (both in the playing and recording) and adorned with high quality photography and artwork on the cover, it’s all impeccably tasteful. Certainly, the mastery of the playing is convincing enough to register his success in venturing into the Classical realm. Replicating tonal characteristics of the harpsichord is a particularly successful element in the evocation of period feel.

After the journey he concludes, “maybe the boundaries between genres are more porous than might first be apparent.” Indeed, perhaps all music is ultimately folk(loric) in its roots! However, the Baroque material, dense in counterpoint and polyphony, comes across essentially as an authentic interpretation of the classical canon. By contrast, the other material, old and new, somehow permits his distinctive voice on the guitar still to be recognisable; fewer boundaries, less mystery, more porosity.

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 98 of The Living Tradition magazine.