Duo Tapas appetizing at Old St.Paul’s

Old St.Paul’s Lunchtime Concert Series

Duo Tapas

Rupa Maitra (violin) / Owen Moriarty (guitar)


Old St.Paul’s Church, Thorndon

Tuesday July 24th 2012

Every now and then one hear something played at a concert which startles the sensibilities into momentary confusion. As when one turns on the radio and encounters something familiar mid-stream, the thought starts to drum away with the music: – “Now, just what is this?”

The Paganini work, Centone di Sonata No.1 which opened this duo recital sounded at first like a transcription of the beginning of the Mahler Fifth Symphony, played on a solo violin – a one-note “call to arms” dominating the opening. The attractive allegro maestoso which followed featured some fine flourishes and an exciting dynamic range -a more lyrical central section brought some major-key sunshine to the A-minor opening of the work.

Interestingly,  Paganini knew a lot about the guitar, partly perhaps because of having earned to play the mandolin before the violin. He once declared that “The violin is my mistress, but the guitar is my master”, and wrote a lot for the guitar in a chamber-music context, not just accompaniments, but with a virtuosity in places which was admired by his fellow-musicians at the time.

One wonders whether the composer’s interest in the guitar was due to its association with romance – Paganini did have a liaison with a “mystery woman” who played the guitar herself, one who possibly was the composer’s “muse” for a time, considering the number of works he wrote involving the instrument.

This work , and the Vivaldi D Minor Sonata from 1709 that followed, brought out lovely tones from the violinist, Rupa Maitra, and sensitive, perfectly-judged partnering lines from guitarist Owen Moriarty. The violinist’s very focused sound served Vivaldi particularly well, bright, Italianate tones lightening the textures and the wood-grainy, muted surrounding of the church’s interior. The character of both the slow, grave Minuet and the more vigorous finale with its different bowing and dynamic contrasts was nicely presented.

Giovanni Seneca (mis-spelled as”Senenca” in the programme) a Neapolitean guitarist and composer, born in 1967, contributed two works to the recital, Balkan Fantasy and Mazel Tov. I liked the second piece better – the first I thought somewhat filmic, a bit all-purpose, like something one might hear in a bar or restaurant – though some of the double-stopping seemed quite demanding, in places, parts of which sounded a bit strained. More interesting, I thought, was Mazel Tov, a work beginning as a slow dance, the notes “bent” for expressive purposes, with very soft playing at first from both musicians, but fuelling up as the music’s catchiness and energy increasingly took hold, the players bringing off a triumphant finish.

Some indigenous Spanish music followed, by Sarasate and Granados. I enjoyed reading George Bernard Shaw’s comment regarding Sarasate, to the effect that though there were many composers  of music for the violin, there were few of “violin music”, and that Sarasate’s playing (he was a virtuoso violinist as well as a composer) for Shaw “left criticism gasping miles behind him”. His Spanish Dances are popular encore pieces for virtuosi, intended to show off what the performer could do. Rupa Maitra captured the sinuous, haunting quality of “Playera”, the first of the composer’s set of Op.23 Dances. Though intonation wasn’t flawless what mattered as much was the atmosphere and the tonal flavourings of the piece, brought out here strongly.

I thought the famous Dance No.5 from Sarasate’s countryman Granados’s own set of Danzas Españolas which followed took a while to find its “point” here, in the wake of the Sarasate. It seemed to me that the playing could have done with a bit less legato throughout the opening (my ears perhaps too attuned to hearing the piece as a work for solo guitar) and the intonation was again a bit edgy on one or two violin notes – but when it came to the middle section, there was suddenly more distinction, like a lover’s musing upon a memory, the violinist making nice distinctions between registers. And where the guitar takes over the theme and the violin decorates was quite enchanting – lovely, soft arpeggiations. I thought Owen Moriarty mis-hit a chord during the reprise, but the playing recovered its poise to deliver a beautiful concluding note to the piece, a “was it all a dream?” kind of impulse…..

The concert finished with Jovano, Jovanke, a work by Bosnian guitarist and composer Almer Imamovic, an arrangement of an old Macedonian song about two young lovers in a “Romeo and Juliet” scenario. The music reflects the emotional turmoil of the two young people in their situation, soulful at the beginning, angular and rhythmically syncopated , with very Middle-Eastern kind of melodic contourings and flavorings, the music building up to great excitement by the end. Bravo!





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