Fabio Zanon, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Had the leading young South American artist offering this varied recital of Byrd, Bach, Albeniz, Lennox Berkeley and Nicholas Maw happened to be a pianist, it would doubtless have drawn critical attention and a capacity audience. But Fabio Zanon is a classical guitarist, and had to be content with a select audience of cognoscenti and students. Despite the dazzling achievements of Segovia, Julian Bream et al, the notion of the guitar and its repertoire as a cult apart evidently still lingers.

Yet the Wigmore Hall has, of all London's recital spaces, the acoustic that best conveys the many "internal" nuances of this most intimate of instruments. Moreover, Zanon is already hugely acclaimed in his native Brazil; nor is he a stranger to London, having studied with Michael Lewin at the Royal Academy, and made the now-substantial modern British repertoire very much his own. However, his stage manner is unflamboyant and modest to a fault, and perhaps this extended to the opening items.

The reticence of his approach to a transcription of a Pavan by Byrd was not entirely dispelled by the more bouncy measures of the same composer's Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home, nor by the varied demands of Bach's solo violin Partita in E Major, in its reworking, possibly intended for lute, but lying better on the modern guitar. Here again, however, it was not so much the brilliant Preludio or concluding Gigue that seemed to engage Zanon, as the more contained movements, such as the Loure with its filigree ornaments, or the Gavotte en Rondo, to which he turned with evident affection.

It was only with the 20th-century items that the full, formidable range of his artistry emerged, beginning with Lennox Berkeley's by now core-classic Sonatina, Op 51, in the angular slow movement of which Zanon found a gamut of contrasting colours. He loosened up still more in the Spanishry of a pair of Albeniz transcriptions, dispatching Zambra Granadina and Torre Bermeja with an edge-of-the-seat volatility, as though he were improvising them on the spot.

The climax of his recital was another British work: Music of Memory by Nicholas Maw. Composed in 1989 for the American guitarist Eliot Fisk, this continuous fantasy-variation structure on the little E-minor Cavatina from Mendelssohn's String Quartet, Op 13, runs to more than 20 vastly demanding minutes. Yet, as Zanon knitted together the work's array of textures and playing techniques, and its allusions to many forms, from fugue to funeral march, in a tour de force of mounting intensity, he convinced us that Music of Memory was indeed "born as a classic, and asserts the guitar as one of the major forces in the musical production of the last decades" - as he claimed in his own programme note.