Timothy Burris is mostly heard as a lutenist, both on recordings and in his capacity as the director of Portland Early Music and a member of Music’s Quill. But in 2015, he decided to have a guitar made by the Canadian luthier Richard Berg, and being a period instrument type, he wanted the instrument to be a copy of a specific mid-19th century guitar.

The instrument in question is a guitar made by the great Spanish luthier Antonio de Torres Jurado in 1864, and played by the composer-virtuoso Francisco Tárrega for about 20 years. The model, known as FE17, was sold after Tárrega’s death to Domingo Prat, an Argentine guitarist who passed it on to his student, María Luisa Anido, who became a prominent guitarist in the early 20th century. The original is currently in the guitar collection of Jonathan Kellerman, the crime novelist.

Burris unveiled the instrument in October 2016, in a program of Baroque and early 19th-century music, all vividly played but mostly from a time much earlier than the Torres – and in some cases, for the double-strung, thin-waisted Baroque guitar, a very different kind of instrument. When I reviewed that concert, I noted that it would be great to hear Burris perform music by Tárrega and his contemporaries on the instrument.

At his recital with mezzo-soprano Jölle Morris on Saturday night in the chapel at the Cathedral of St. Luke’s, he didn’t do that, exactly – there were no works by Tárrega, Arcas, Llobet or Pujol (some of which he played at the Portland Public Library in July 2017) – but Burris did focus on music composed between 1862 and 1870, just before and after Torres built FE17.

The composers were fairly obscure, even for guitar aficionados, but they offered a glimpse of what Spanish guitarists-composers were writing when Brahms, Liszt, Wagner, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky were busy elsewhere. In truth, the guitar music of the mid-19th century was not at the level of those composers; it would take until the 1950s and ’60s for composers of truly international stature (like Benjamin Britten, William Walton and Hans Werner Henze) to become interested in writing for the guitar, thanks to the enterprising commissioning program undertaken by guitarist Julian Bream.

In the 1860s, the guitar was still finding its modern voice and technique. That voice was pretty delicate. The Torres guitar was a bit smaller than today’s model, with a gentle sound. And the music’s accent, not surprisingly, was tinged with Spanish folk influences and those of the Hispanic world. Several of the works Burris and Morris offered were built on the rhythms of the Habanera, a Cuban dance that had made its way to Spain, and Burris closed the program with a tango, a form imported from Argentina.

There is considerable charm in this repertory, especially the vocal selections, all either composed or arranged by Tomás Damas. A few of the songs – “¡Así son todos!” and “La Hichecera,” most notably – sounded like refugees from Bizet’s “Carmen,” despite the fact that the first was described as an arrangement of a popular American dance. Damas’ “Te Amo,” by contrast, was strikingly dramatic and the graceful chromaticism of “Lejos de Ti” drew on the emotional extroversion of flamenco singing. Morris sang them with a smooth, appealing tone, and a suitably Mediterranean interpretive suppleness.

Of course, the sound of the Torres recreation – sweet, warm, resonant and rounded – was an attraction in itself, and Burris framed the program with solo guitar works. Those were steeped in a folkloric style as well, but you could always hear an effort to bend those elements toward greater formality.

That meant a graceful balance between the modal, Moorish-influenced melody and the accompanying bass line in Jaume Bosch’s “Plainte Moresque” (Op. 85), percussive effects in Matías de Jorge Rubio’s “Danza Habanera” and vibrant Habanera rhythms supporting an attractive, extroverted melody in Damas’ “La Sensible.”

But the most ambitious pieces were Antonio Cano’s introspective “Andante Grave” and a pair of works by José Viñas – “El Platano,” a tango, and “Pensamiento Espresivo,” a character piece built largely of artificial harmonics, the bell-like sounds created when a finger is placed lightly and a string, and lifted just as it is plucked. Burris wisely saved these for last, and gave them focused, technically assured readings.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: kozinn


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