In a recent interview, BBC Radio 3 Controller Roger Wright was asked "What music would you want played at your funeral?" His reply: "Spanish guitar music, because I wouldn’t be there to hear it. If you ask my colleagues they’d say Spanish guitar music is one of my blind spots."

Kathy Panama
Kathy Panama

Full marks to Wright for laying his cards on the table, perhaps. But how common, how deep-seated are such sentiments in the British classical music community? Is its typical mindset essentially closed or open? And can a temple to European classical music such as the Wigmore Hall, where the patrician glare of Feruccio Busoni stares down from the wall of the green room, welcome with fully open arms music as close to the vernacular as the works which John Williams played last night? His programme was entirely, for want of a better word, subtropical: Villa-Lobos (Brazil), Leo Brouwer (Cuba), Francis Bebey (Cameroun), John Williams himself (Australia) and Barrios (Paraguay).

Yes, the Wigmore Hall has been hosting guitar recitals for decades, notably by John Williams and Julian Bream. OK, the hall's fine acoustics work for the guitar too, although a straight comparison for clarity with Kings Place Hall One might favour the latter. The Wigmore now even has a four concert 2010-11 Guitar Series, of which last night's concert by John Williams was the first. As a musician from the Southern Hemisphere, who has worked across genres all his life, he is not embarrassed in the slightest to take on such paradoxes and to let the music he plays stand on its own merits. Last night's capacity audience - and the Wigmore is always a very special place when full - clearly enjoyed what they heard. Once some loud coughers had settled down and cleared their throats, Williams was able to elicit a level of concentration no less rapt than it would have been for a concert of Schubert piano sonatas. And the applause he received was strong, full, and very appreciative throughout.

Approaching his seventieth birthday next year, Williams does not feel any need to stand on ceremony. His informal, engaging and friendly platform manner works well. He talked to the audience, explaining things about the music while re-tuning between numbers . No suit or tails for him: instead, a grey horizontally striped smock. Williams was described in the programme as "a foremost ambassador of the guitar." And one figure for whom Williams has performed unstinting ambassadorial duties for nearly four decades is the Paraguayan guitarist/composer Agustin Barrios Mangoré. In his sleeve notes for the landmark recording issued in 1977, Williams described him as The outstanding guitarist-composer of his time, I would say of any time, for the qualities of inventiveness and obvious love of the instrument.

Williams has undimmed enthusiasm for Barrios' music. The official programme ended with Un Sueño en la Foresta. Williams was spellbinding. The melody is played mandolin-style with the fingers of the right hand playing ultra fast repeat notes, while the thumb picks out the arpeggio pattern. It is not just an impressive display. He made the melody truly sing and lift. In other Barrios pieces, such as the waltzes, Williams' approach to these pieces is now both freer and faster than it was in the seventies. He has a distinct tendency towards accelerando , and states the melody more obliquely. Barrios' waltzes are clearly indebted to another composer of salon music far more regularly feted in the Wigmore Hall: Chopin.

Towards the end of the recital Williams commented wryly that while the explosion in classical music in Venezuela may have taken European concert halls by storm, the subtler charms of caribbean-influenced Venezuelan music were much less appreciated. But it was in his playing of the delicate first encore Como Llora una Estrella, arranged by Alirio Diaz, delivered with soul and great beauty, that he made his point most convincingly.

The three remaining Guitar Series concerts are the Cuban Manuel Barrueco on October 24th, the Uruguayan Alvaro Pierri in March and Glasgow-born adoptive Galician David Russell in May. This was a great start.