Neither of these two CDs were what we were expecting, which was lively Latin type music. In fact — which makes sense — despite being influenced over the course of history by the indigenous folk, the Spanish who invaded and African slaves, Venezuelan guitar peaked in the late 19th century and the performers would have been more influenced by European music.
The Venezuelan CD in particular sounds Western, but sparkles more than would a dry European recitation, history and folk music mixing with a classical sound. The collection is gentle, though the playing complex: Venezuelan guitarists sure like to be kept busy. To be simplistic, think Catavina, the classical piece by Stanley Myers made famous by John Williams and later by the Deer Hunter. It’s got the same kind of appeal — easy on the ear, not too difficult and evocative, though this has a more mystical appeal to it.
The Mexican collection is similar, though punchier, more vibrant and often faster. The Venezuelans are chilling over a beer, the Mexicans staring at something strong with a worm in it.
Opener Siena is so fast and hard as to be almost prog; at least someone like Nick Harper blasting out a fierce solo. Track two Imágenes de Yucatán slows it all down again, but you can see why heavy metal is so popular in South America — it’s the only genre that matches the frantic guitar playing of the indigenous music.
Both CDs are enjoyable, though we prefer the livelier Mexican. They both have a genuine quality to them, the real music of the country being played by masters of it, with no cliché or dumbing down.
They’re both out on Naxos: Venezuelan Guitar on 8573631, Guitar Music Of Mexico on 8573674.