Saudade

Plinio Fernandes

Decca Gold, 2022

http://www.pliniofernandesmusic.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/10/2022

Anyone who has even glimpsed this site over the past quarter-century knows I am an absolute sucker for guitar music. Anyone who can make the instrument sing, I’m more than willing to take the time to listen to.

So when I was informed about Saudade, the debut effort from Plinio Fernandes, I was immediately drawn to it. And, after watching the video for the lead-off track “Assanhado,” I was floored—it simply should be illegal for someone to be that good on the guitar. (Yes, kids, that’s one guitarist playing—not multiple.) There’s a reason this 27-year-old native of Brazil is being heralded as the next master of the classical guitar—simply because he’s the real thing.

For those not familiar with the word, “saudade” refers to a state of longing for someone or something, especially with the knowledge that what one is desiring is gone forever. The closest English word is “bittersweet”—that is, happy and sad at the same time. More often than not, Fernandes captures that feeling in his playing; tracks like “Beatriz” and “Aquarelle: II. Valseana” are hauntingly beautiful while capturing that feeling without speaking a word. That, boys and girls, is power.

While most of these 18 tracks feature Fernandes performing solo, it’s when he pairs up with people like cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason (“Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5: I. Aria (Cantilena): Adagio”), vocalist Maria Rita (“O Mundo E Um Moinho”) and violinist Braimah Kanneh-Mason (“Menino”) that the power of Fernandes’s playing is truly amplified. This isn’t to say that more duets would have worked on Saudade, rather that these three were especially moving to listen to.

Even if one is not familiar with the works of such artists as Heitor Villa-Lobos, Sergio Assad and Angenor de Oliviera, anyone with a casual knowledge of music will recognize, at the very least, Fernandes’s take on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema.” And where this song has been covered more times than one would like to admit. Fernandes’s take on it feels close to the bone, and undoubtedly would have pleased Jobim.

If there is any weakness with Saudade, it’s that Fernandes stays extremely true to the classical roots of the songs he plays… and his style almost begs for him to try to put some flash into the playing. This isn’t to say he should have showboated in his performances, which could have corrupted the source material. Rather, I’d have liked to have had at least one example of Fernandes performing an original piece that would allow him to expand on the skillset he has obviously mastered.

This, however, is a personal wish, and not a performance flub. All in all, Saudade captures a spirit of classical guitar that has been absent with the passage of many of the instrument’s masters, such as Segovia. Where his talent is going to take him, only time will tell, but if this disc is any evidence, Plinio Fernandes is going to be a major name to watch.

Rating: A-

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