English guitarist Cheryl Grice-Watterson at Lower Hutt

Guitar solos: Malaguena (Jose de Azpiazu), Verde alma (Maximo Diego Pujol), Choros No 1 (Villa-Lobos), Sakura (Yukijiro Yocoh), Girl from Ipanema (Antonio Jobin), La catedral (Agustin Barrios), Tango en Skai (Roland Dyens)  

St Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt

Wednesday 13 October 12.15pm

The concert advertised for this Wednesday was to have been led by violinist Slava Fainitski, a first violinist in the Wellington Orchestra. He suffered a heart attack in the weekend and the place was filled by English guitarist Cheryl Grice-Watterson.

I knew nothing of her and so was extremely surprised as she launched into the Malaguena by José de Azpiazu, with such musicality, refinement and flexibility.

She was born in Yorkshire in 1953 and after study at the Royal Northern College of Music became a noted guitarist in Britain and the Continent, famously with Julian Bream on television. She emigrated with her family to New Zealand in 1997 and became head of guitar at the Nelson School of Music. She plays with Martin and Victoria Jaenecke in the Trio con Brio and I have succeeded in missing their performances in Wellington though my colleagues have reviewed both a performance by Cheryl and Martin Jaenecke and one by Trio con Brio for Middle C.

Verde Alma by Maximo Diego Pujol was a less danceable piece, atmospheric and quite entrancing. Villa-Lobos’s Choros No 1, the first really familiar piece, was played quite beautifully, with a touch that was soft and exquisitely sensitive, drawing attention to an instrument that spoke strongly and warmly in the church’s acoustic.

Sakura by Yakijiro Yocoh is a more extended work, an introduction, theme and variations: Ms Grice played the first two sections and three of the variations: there is spare writing, in a clearly Japanese character, using the pentatonic scale; it is refined in expression, much of it employing a single line of melody without very much harmony.

A somewhat jazz rendering of Antonio Jobim’s Girl from Ipanema followed, in a squarish 4/4 rhythm that seemed a little uncertain of itself.

Agustin Barrios was a Paraguayan guitarist and composer (1885-1944) who left one of the richest collections of guitar music. John Williams is recorded saying: “Barrios is the best of the lot, regardless of era. His music is better formed, it’s more poetic, it’s more everything!” La Catedral is a concert piece in three shortish movements, and is regarded as his masterpiece, and it was the centre-piece of the recital. My own notes, before reading this and other comments, remarked the Chopinesque artistry and subtlety of the first two movements. In the Andante, steady paced, mainly on the lower strings, Ms Grice created a sombre, dimly lit atmosphere while the final Allegro which she told us suggested emerging from within the cathedral into the busy street, actually continued to maintain a fairly serious spirit in spite of its virtuosic flights of scales and arpeggios. Her playing revealed very clearly the music’s unfailingly rich musical invention.

The recital ended with French composer born in 1955, Roland Dyens’s Tango en Skai, that combined great virtuosity with striking dynamic contrasts and subtle rhythms.

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