A Brace of Troubadours – “Fabulous Guitars” from Caprice Arts

Charlotte Yates (voice and guitar)

Owen Moriarty and Christopher Hill (guitar duo)

Music by Charlotte Yates, Andrew York, Astor Piazzolla, Isaac Albeniz,

Radames Gnatali, Joaquin Rodrigo, Manuel de Falla, Paulo Bellinati

Congregational Church, Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

Friday 6th November 2009

One would have thought, on the evidence provided by this concert, that time couldn’t have been better spent than listening to the dulcet tones of music for guitar (in fact, mostly TWO guitars!). After all, no less a musician than Frederic Chopin was credited with saying at one time, that “Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar – save, perhaps, two…”. Despite such impressive recommendations, only a handful of people took up Caprice Arts’ invitation to hear a concert of music for (mostly) guitars and for guitar and voice, given by songwriter and performer Charlotte Yates, along with guitarists Owen Moriarty and Christopher Hill, in the Congregational Church along Wellington’s Cambridge Terrace. As with the previous week’s concert with Peter and Mary Barber and Annabel Cheetham, the venue and the small attendance suited the intimate nature of the music and the music-making, but part of one couldn’t help but wish for greater audience numbers and a rather larger-scaled “ebb-and-flow” between performers and listeners.

Charlotte Yates began the programme and immediately invited those of us who were there to “come and sit closer”, a gesture which warmed the ambience and drew us all more closely into the proceedings. She sang three songs from a recent CD “Beggar’s Choice”, the first a ballad-like song “Under Black Water”, reminiscent of Joan Baez’s way with similar repertoire, and a second song “Lost – Blue”, a love-song lamenting the end of a relationship, the emotional angst of the piece expressed by astringent vocals and syncopated rhythms. A third song used words by NZ poet Hone Tuwhare, a poem entitled “Mad”, Charlotte Yates bringing out the heavy beat of the poem’s pulse in her setting, and again using syncopated accents for expressive effect – I had trouble catching the words at times, due to the almost orchestral weight of tones and timbres the singer drew from her guitar.

Owen Moriarty and Christopher Hill began their first-half bracket of items with a contemporary work, Andrew York’s “Sanzen-in”, a piece inspired by the composer’s visiting a temple in Japan, The music had a kind of canonic feeling, accentuated by the exchanges between the instruments, everything beautifully and subtly voiced. Interestingly the sounds weren’t pentatonic, and so avoided any feeling of pastiche, bringing out what seemed an inward, individual response to the experience by the composer. We were then whisked a good half-a-world away to the Iberian peninsular, and to Isaac Albeniz’s evocation of “Sevilla”, played here at a quick, challenging tempo, but with tremendously adroit articulation, the players negotiating the many little touches of rubato with near-perfect ensemble, apart from a momentary hiccup at the reprise of the opening section. Next were two pieces by Piazolla, the first, “Zita”, a transcription of a piece for larger ensemble, featuring a spiky opening with astringent harmonics and syncopated accents, and in places generating terrific momentum. The second piece “Whisky” was a scherzo-like dance movement, woven of gossamer thread at the opening, digging into a more trenchant middle section, and then quixotically going into a kind of “twilight zone” of deep thought, before gradually reawakening and revitalising the textures and rhythms. Most entertaining.

Charlotte Yates returned after the interval with two more songs from the “Beggar’s Choice” CD, performing these with the engaging informality that one would perhaps encounter in a club or a bar. Described as a “gentle pop” number, the first song delineates a fruitless search somewhere in Spain for a flamenco club, while the following “Blood Red Moon” in classic ballad style, described the effect of the previous year’s lunar eclipse – a stirring number , delivered with great panache and whimsy, of all of her performances, the one I responded to the most readily and pleasurably.

The Guitar Duo took up the reins for the concert’s remainder, beginning with a piece honouring a composer written by another composer – Radames Gnatali from Brazil paid homage to his composer-peers in a four-movement suite, each part dedicated to a colleague or mentor or inspirational figure. Here, the Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth was honoured with a movement entitled “Valsa”, a piece that began with attractive flourishes and introductory gesturings, before leaning into a waltz-rhythm with a lovely, sinuous melody. Contrasts were afforded by exciting accelerandi and occasional breathtaking sotto voce voicings, the ensemble between the two players, supple, flexible and tensile throughout, bringing off the piece’s ending with winning poise and elegance. Perhaps the most popularly well-known composer for guitar is Joachim Rodrigo, whose “Tonadilla” was next played, a work written for the husband-and-wife guitar duo of Alexander Lagoya and Ida Presti, names I remembered from my early days of record-collecting. This was a wonderful piece, engaging and wide-ranging across three movements – a scherzo-like beginning with pinging “wrong-note” harmonies, a “Minuetto Pomposo” whose droll rhythms give way to a baritonal trio melody spiked by ascerbic chords, and a concluding allegro vivace, a deceptively lazy beginning setting the scene for more astringent harmonic clashes and declamatory posturings, everything nicely “debunked” by the return of the attractively relaxed trajectory of the music.

Another well-known Spanish composer is, of course, Manuel de Falla, whose Spanish Dance from “La Vida Breve” figures in all kinds of instrumental arrangements, but works beautifully for two guitars. This was a more restrained, less overtly macho “take” on the music which I thought brought out a more volatile and elusive quality, the notes flickering like firelight, and the tones not so much threatening in places as strong and certain, but with a sense of power in reserve. Finally we were given another Brazilian work, “Jongo”, by Paulo Bellinati, a piece whose “game-of-chase” aspect between the instruments and occasional percussive effects (quite elaborate at one point) provided a brilliant and entertaining finale to the programme. After such guitaristic fireworks, the Duo generously played an encore to settle our pulse rates, a lovely “Evening Dance” by Andrew York, whose “American in Japan” piece we had already enjoyed in the programme’s first half. A pity more people weren’t present to witness this “triumph of the guitars”, fully living up to the sentiments expressed by the concert’s title.

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