Manuel Barrueco’s Masterful Albéniz Transcriptions Have Been in the Making for 40 Years

BY STEVE MARSH | FROM THE SUMMER 2019 ISSUE OF CLASSICAL GUITAR

Isaac Albéniz’s piano composition Suite Española, Op. 47 consists of eight pieces mainly composed in 1886, each one portraying a geographical region and musical idiom of Spain. The first edition of the suite, published in Barcelona in 1892, included only the first four movements: Granada, Cataluna, Sevilla, and Cuba. Cuban guitarist Manuel Barrueco recorded his transcription of these pieces (plus another one from the suite, Cadiz) in 1979, and two years later, all five works were published by Belwin-Mills in one album. In 1992, Barrueco recorded all eight movements of the suite, but because he was unhappy with his arrangements of Castilla and Aragon—apparently, they were practically unplayable in their original transcription—we have had to wait 25 years for his transcriptions to finally be published, by his own Tonar Music company. This new edition includes his revised versions, as well as the other title to appear in this suite, Asturias.

Four of the titles—Aragon, Sevilla, Cataluna, Castilla—are presented in their original keys, while Asturias, Cadiz, Granada, and Cuba have been taken into more guitar-friendly keys. Barrueco seems to have gone to extraordinary lengths to get to the essence of the original piano music, and he has succeeded in fine fashion. There are compromises for voicing, harmonies, and chords, of course, but anyone unaware of the origin of this music would be hard-pressed to know that they are not original guitar compositions. 

Without exception, all the pieces in this suite have considerable charm. Albéniz’s extensive creative powers are illustrated to the fullest in this music, which is crammed with superb and memorable melodies, exciting rhythms, and wonderful harmonies. Although Albéniz never wrote anything for guitar in his lifetime, it is highly likely that guitar transcriptions of his music have made him more well-known with the general public than the original piano works from which they are taken. Pieces such as Sevilla, Granada, and in particular, Asturias, are possibly given more exposure on the concert platform and air-time on the radio by guitarists than pianists.

A quick comparison between this new issue and Barrueco’s 1981 edition shows that this new album has a much clearer score, bar numbers have been added, and here and there some fingering alterations appear. There is an incorrectly fingered chord in bar 54 of Granada, which is rather odd, considering it seems to be a completely re-set score; the same fingering occurs in the older publication. 


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Altogether, though, this is a sumptuous edition, extremely well-produced, with clear, easy-to-read scores, well-fingered and with a well-designed front cover. The pieces are presented in the order in which they were originally published, although Barrueco suggests a more practical version that minimizes potential intonation problems the original programming could create due to several re-tuning occurrences.

With books such as this available, it is likely that Albéniz’s music will never be out of fashion with guitarists, and I can wholeheartedly recommend this new presentation. The technical standard for all the works in this collection is very high, of course; we’re talking advanced-plus!



Petrit Çeku plays Barrueco’s transcription of Cataluña:

Gohar Vardanyan plays Barrueco’s arrangement of Sevilla: