Mysterious Boundaries the Hauntingly Beautiful New Album by Tony McManus
By: Rick Landers
At once technically masterful, emotionally nuanced and evocative, the Scottish-born guitarist’s new album will please his fans and attract a wider audience to his fine playing. And with a surname that’s rooted in the word “great”, Tony lives up to his family’s Irish heritage.
Beginning his offering with a 17th century baroque composition by François Couperin, “Les Barricades Mysterieuses”, McManus masterfully paces us through the bucolic piece that’s at once repetitive, as it is unpredictable. A nuanced piece, that’s reminiscent of Pachabel’s Canon in D Major, yet technically more interesting and, ultimately, very melodically pleasing.
Tony continues in baroque style, with “Allemande”, a romantic composition by Bach and the first movement of his Partita for Violin No. 2, that transports nicely from its origins to the guitar. The tenderness McManus presents, breathes romance and most certainly pays a loving tribute to Bach’s wife, for whom many music scholars believe the piece was composed.
“Spanish Dance #4 Villanesca” by Enrique Granados (1867–1916) melts with Spanish charm and romance, as McManus pulls off a complex piece that demands some fancy finger play and an exquisite sense of phrasing that blesses this classic with notable six-string perfection.
Certainly, guitarists who want a challenge should at least attempt to follow Tony’s precision lead on “Goldberg”. And, although he’s been called the “the best Celtic guitarist in the world” by John Renbourn, this piece alone may suggest that the Celt’s music territory extends well beyond his roots.
That brings us to a most magnificent piece of music in the genius hands of Tony McManus. Possibly, one of the most hauntingly beautiful compositions ever written, “Gnossienne #1”, by Erik Satie (1866 – 1925), this guitar rendition is so tragically sad and tender that it’s brutal. The composition is romantically yearning, as if a hollowed out lover is forever stuck in some masochistic melancholy bliss.
Tony nearly jolts us away from “Gnossienne”, with “Prelude”, a spirited composition by J.S. Bach that clips along at an intensely articulate and magical pace. Originally composed for the viola, it seems that the guitar can take the piece to higher ground in the hands of a masterful guitarist.
Mysterious Boundaries claims more ancient ground with Claudio Montevedi’s (1567-1643) “Nigra Sum” with McManus drawing out sparkling moments on his Paul Reed Smith [PRS] Signature guitar and modernizing the piece without losing its historical integrity.
“Pangua Ligua” is a quiet composition that is almost tentative in its movement. It’s one of those tracks where the beauty is found in its simplicity and most thoughtful hesitancy. A song where the notes arrive and drift away, leaving space for new tones to emerge…and it’s beautiful.
Before this album appeared, guitarists who had heard Tony play Bach’s “Chaconne” whispered about its magnificence, coupled with Tony’s daunting talent and emotional rendering of the piece. It’s been a favorite composition of discerning musicians and music enthusiasts for several hundred years. No less than Johann Brahms once called the piece, “earth-shattering”. McManus certainly digs deep into his pool of genius to draw out the emotional coloration and beauty of Bach’s “Chaconne” – guitar at its best.
Mysterious Boundaries leaves us with another pleasing version of “Les Barricades Mysterieuses”, but on a baritone guitar made for Tony by luthier, William C. Kelday.
Mysterious Boundaries may mean many things to different people, but for eclectic guitarist, Tony McManus, the phrase simply means that musical boundaries are meaningless, rather than mysterious – he only needs to render the phrase useless, by exploring new realms of music, and playing. This new album is a bold move that shifts his music boundaries, one that succeeds beautifully, and it’s a “must have” for all that love guitar and good music.