News & Reviews: Recordings

REVIEW: Peppino D’Agostino, “Penumbra”

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The fingerstyle virtuoso takes on pieces by composers Sérgio Assad, Roland Dyens, and others.

by Teja Gerken
October 06, 2014
Peppino D'Agostino performs "Sérgio" in the Peghead Nation studio. 

During a recording career that spans more than three decades, contemporary fingerstyle guitarist Peppino D’Agostino has emerged as one of the most identifiable players in the genre. Combining a keen sense of melody with virtuoso technique, D’Agostino has created a style that is as likely to charm casual listeners as to stun fellow guitar pickers. His new solo recording Penumbra is his most ambitious album to date, showcasing D’Agostino’s ability to turn the steel-string guitar into a miniature orchestra.

PeppinoPenumbra.jpgD’Agostino’s interest in classical music goes back to 2001’s Classic/Steel (an album of duets with renowned classical guitarist David Tanenbaum), a collaboration that led to the founding of the Pacific Guitar Ensemble, an eight-piece group in which D’Agostino provides the lone steel-string voice. But Penumbra is D’Agostino’s first recording to fully incorporate these influences into his solo playing. The album is split evenly between D’Agostino originals and pieces penned by some of the finest contemporary guitar composers: Sérgio Assad, Maurizio Colonna, Roland Dyens, and Gyan Riley. Of these, Assad’s two contributions, “Peppino Sotto Portico” and “Una Serata a North Beach,” both written specifically for D’Agostino, are particularly noteworthy. Dyens’ “Valse des Anges” is an example of how a familiar piece from the modern classical repertoire can find a new voice on the steel-string guitar. And the strummed parts on Riley’s “Irican” are such a perfect match for D’Agostino that it’s hard to imagine the piece in its original nylon-string context.

D’Agostino’s own tunes are a logical continuation of his “minestrone music” approach. From the modern-but-melodic depth of the album’s title track, to the Celtic tinge in “MB Love” to the Brazilian touches in “Sérgio,” D’Agostino’s many influences melt into a coherent whole.

At a time when more and more steel-string guitarists are exploring the classical repertoire, Penumbra is an important foray into the contemporary classical repertoire, blurring the lines between labels such as “classical” or “fingerstyle,” and simply creating beautiful and engaging music. Bravo, Peppino!

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