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Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, February 2010

Francisco Tárrega’s compositions are well known to lovers of guitar music and even those with a fleeting interest in the instrument must have heard Recuerdos de la Alhambra, or Tremolo Etude, as it is also called. It is a wonderful melody and there are lots of the same kind in his oeuvre. Though he was breaker of new ground when it came to guitar technique his compositions were far from daring or innovative, rather deeply rooted in the mid-19th century Romantic currents. But they are wonderful to listen to—provided the listener has a sweet tooth. They are equally useful as background wall-paper in company with a medium-rare steak and a bottle of Estremadura, as for concentrated listening with headphones…Mats Bergström’s guitar, made by Swedish luthier Lars Jönsson, is a replica, of the Torres instrument built in 1888 which became Tarrega’s favourite.

Mats Bergström is a Swedish guitarist who studied at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and the Juilliard School in New York. He has been a professional player for more than twenty-five years, making his recital debut at Wigmore Hall in 1983. He is one of the most versatile of guitarists as soloist as well as ensemble musician in a wide variety of genres. As accompanist he has worked with numerous Swedish instrumentalists and singers, including baritone Olle Persson (they have recorded Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, which he also arranged), Anne Sofie von Otter, Tommy Körberg (of Chess fame) and Barbara Hendricks. He has a large discography but this seems to be his first solo record. Since Francisco Tárrega died one hundred years ago it was natural for Mats to record this tribute to him.

Several of Tarrega’s pupils, including Llobet and Pujol, have described him as ‘a charismatic romantic and a dreamer, unpretentious, kind and thoughtful’. Llobet even called him ‘angelic’. If these descriptions are anything to go by concerning his own playing, I believe Mats Bergström is very close to the mark. Take the ubiquitous Recuerdos de la Alhambra as an example. From my collection I picked two earlier Naxos recordings, one with David Martinez, the other with Norbert Kraft. Just have a look at the timings:

Martinez 3:44
Kraft 4:18
Bergström 5:40

Before I had read Mats Bergström’s liner-notes with the descriptions of Tarrega, I had written on my notepad: ‘A dreamy reading, which seems absolutely right´. ‘Recuerdos’ means remembrances and suchlike tend to be ‘dreamy’. It is slow, in real time, but one doesn’t get the impression it is. Martinez’s version—almost two minutes shorter, which is a sensational difference for so short a piece—is nervous and almost aggressive with heavy accents. His is a reading of the roaring 1990s, Mats Bergström’s is of the more genial 1890s. Norbert Kraft, always a reliable interpreter, is somewhere between, though considerably closer to Martinez than to Bergström. He uses more rubato and is a bit heavier. Mats Bergström’s is now my favourite version. Well, isn’t he eccentric with that tempo? Andrés Segovia, who was the one who established this piece and made it the favourite it has been for so long, takes 5:13—an indication that Bergström is rather close to the original. And to round off this exposé: Fernando Espi takes 5:48! Case closed…Recuerdos de la Alhambra, which is the longest piece here, can stand as a symbol for the rest of the programme. ‘Dreamy’ may not be a keyword for everything on the disc, but the beauty of the playing, the care over nuances and the technical assurance, which is no end in itself, are all the time in evidence and makes this one of the most satisfying guitar recitals I have heard for a long time. Readers who have no further acquaintance with Tarrega’s music, apart from Recuerdos, will find a treasure trove here: Endecha (prelude No. 15 in D minor), Lagrima (Prelude No. 11 in E), Adelita, the lovely Mazurka in G, Maria and Capricho arabe are only a few of the pieces here that I have loved for so long and which will hopefully be friends for life once one has heard them. I don’t expect to hear them played with more elegance, warmth and charm—and the recording leaves nothing to be desired. I hope Naxos will ask him for a volume two before long. As a bonus we are also treated to ‘one of the most frequently heard tunes of our time’: measures 13–16 of Gran vals is the ring tone for Nokia mobile phones!

Gapplegate Music Review, November 2009

Francisco Tarrega (1852–1909) was one of the founding fathers of modern Spanish Guitar. He left a body of work for unaccompanied guitarist that has genuine charm and, in the right hands, combines lyrical melodic writing with technical finesse. Such hands certainly are there in the performances of Swedish exponent Matt Bergstrom in his recent recording of Tarrega’s Guitar Music. Included are the “Preludios,” “Las Dos Hermanitas,” “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” and “Gran Vals.”

What strikes me about Bergstrom’s interpretations is his judicious use of rubato. Some performers overuse the expressive qualities of this manner of articulation until the music gushes forth in a saccharine way and the kinetic momentum of the music is lost. I also sometimes suspect that some performers have not prepared sufficiently on certain pieces and the rubato pauses and slowing down has less to do with expressivity and more to do with not being able to get though a particular passage at tempo. Not at all so here. Bergstrom keeps enough of the rhythmic regularity of phrases to bring out the Spanish rootedness in dance forms (and sometimes European-Viennese rootedness too, as with the waltzes) without losing the capability of the guitar writing to soar well beyond our mundane world.

This is a fine program of Tarrega gems, performed lovingly. It’s a beautiful disk and I heartily recommend it.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2009

The Spanish born composer holds a very special place in guitar folklore, his recitals in the latter part of the 19th century setting new technical standards and mesmerizing his audiences. Though his programmes embraced a wide range of music, usually in arrangements for guitar, he always included his own compositions. He survived two substantial illnesses, the second causing him to play with the flesh of the fingers, much copied by other guitarists, and at the same time his illness caused him to be one of the first guitarists to use a footstool. He composed almost a hundred works, most in the form of charming cameos, and often inspired by other composers from whom he quoted. Here we have thirty-two tracks, often in dance rhythm, the Swedish-born Mats Bergström taking a few liberties in combining sixteen of the pieces Tarrega described as Preludios to form one work. Many are short and last only a few seconds, and as we move into the remainder of the disc only the Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Capricho arabe are of substantial duration. I was particularly drawn to the two mazurkas, Adelita and Marieta, together with vivacious polkas, Rosita and Pepita. Regular readers will know of my aversion to sliding fingers on guitar strings, but here many of the works require and respond to it. Bergström is a player of refinement who responds to the Tarrega genre with an obvious affinity, and I much recommend it to you.

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