Classical guitar lecturer gives fine, varied recital at St Andrew’s

Music by Barrios, Vivaldi, Ian Krouse and Walton

Jane Curry – classical guitar

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 7 December, 12.15pm

Jane Curry joined the faculty of the New Zealand School of Music at the beginning of 2011; although she’s given public recitals before this was my introduction to her playing.

I was a minute late and she was part-way through Caazapa by famous Paraguayan composer/guitarist Augustine Barrios; the sounds she was producing were limpid, relaxed , with an air of improvisation that spoke of her confidence and thorough command of the music. Her second piece was called Maxixe, faster, fluent, again with a relaxed manner that produced the most natural dynamic and rhythmic subtleties.

Jane’s biographical note in the programme didn’t tell me of her New Zealand background, but the school’s website did. She’s been very peripatetic: a B.A. from Waikato University, a B.Mus. from Massey followed by an honours degree at Auckland University. Then, following work at both the Royal College of Music in London and the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, she went to study with Scott Tennant at the University of Southern California. She then took a master’s degree and a doctorate from the University of Arizona. (What an amazing contrast with the normal qualifications of university teachers in my day when a master’s with first class honours, and an occasional doctorate, from rarely more than two different universities, usually afforded plentiful depth as well as breadth of learning and skills, in the days when the emphasis was teaching rather than today’s obsession with ‘research’).

Her CV also mentions theatre studies and an interest in ‘collaborative and cross-disciplinary work in musicology and ethnomusicology’, with focus on the music of the Balkans. It will be interesting to watch her impact in those areas, already well developed, at the New Zealand School of Music.

Jane Curry’s second piece was an arrangement by David Russell of Vivaldi’s 6th cello sonata, in B flat (RV 46). (I think she remarked that it was transposed). Russell, with whom she worked in Arizona, has published a CD of his recordings of his arrangements for guitar of a number of keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, ones by Handel and Loeillet, plus this one.  The opening Largo was gracious and unhurried, as she relished the pensive, cantabile melody that transferred very comfortably to the guitar. If the technical challenges were not overwhelming in that, they emerged more dramatically in the Allegro, showing that the writing lies no more easily with the guitar than it would with the cello, especially as the arrangement involved carrying the essentials of the continuo part, often played by a second cello, by means of a left hand whose agile fingering involved the most astonishing contortions. Here Curry demonstrated a range of nuances that were no less beguiling than a cello would have done. The third movement was another Largo in which the rhythm suggested careful picking one’s way across stepping stones in a stream; what variety of harmony and dynamics are available to a skilled guitarist!

Curry expressed her admiration for composer Ian Krouse with whom she worked in Los Angeles. His interest in Balkan music yielded his Variations on a Moldavian Hora (a word cognate with the Greek ‘Choros’ from which ‘choreography’ is derived). The piece involved, to start, sounds emanating from the extremes of the guitar’s range, sometimes provocative, sometimes seeming to resolve. But the technical difficulties soon faded from view – for the listener at least – as Curry’s handling of the dancing theme emerged so musically. I’m sure it was one of those pieces in which the overcoming of difficulties was continuously accompanied by real musical rewards.

Finally Curry played four of Walton’s five Bagatelles. The first is a hypnotic riot of virtuosity which seems to demand the most awkward-looking, fast and tortuous fingering, which produced racing and irregular phrases. The second piece, Lento, limited in its expressive range and musical material, seemed to convey a suppressed unease, or at least an absence of overt emotion.

Alla Cubana is perhaps the most lyrical of the Bagatelles; it begins and remains for the most part on the lower strings, soon developing a Caribbean character, with only a rare leap up the E string. The last, Con Slancio, expresses a nervous, distinctly Latin flavoured quality, short-winded and quite pithy, but she infused it with spirit and energy that brought the recital to a close in a confident temper.

The School of Music is fortunate to have secured such an accomplished performer and so versatile a musician to teach guitar after the departure of Matthew Marshall.


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