Australian guitarist Alex Tsiboulski seduces audience with beautiful playing

J.S. Bach: Suite no.1 for unaccompanied cello (BWV 1007), arr. Stephen Snook
Fernando Sor: Variations on a theme of Mozart, Op.10
Hans Werner Henze: Drei Tentos from Kammermusik
Alfred Uhl: Sonata classica
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Valsa Chôro from Suite populaire brésilienne
Isaac Albeniz: Sevilla from Suite Española
Pixinguinha (Alfredo da Rocha Viana Jr.): Carinhoso, arr. Roland Dyens

Adam Concert Room, New Zealand School of Music

Thursday 20 September 2012, 7pm

Jane Curry, the New Zealand School of Music tutor in guitar, introduced the performer, his visit being enabled by sponsorship from the Australian High Commission in Wellington (though Ukrainian-born, Tsiboulski has lived in Australia since his early teens.)  We in the audience were the beneficiaries, not least in that this was a free concert.  It was a bonus to have the concert in the relative intimacy of the Adam Concert Room, where the guitar could be easily heard, and the player easily seen.  The sound was clear; even the quietest notes could be heard.

The Bach Suite’s Prelude was played in so gentle and lovely a manner that I formed the opinion, not changed through the six movements, that I actually preferred this version to the cello original (sacrilege, maybe).  Tsiboulski spoke after the first two items, and said that this was not an ‘authentic’ arrangement, in that it did not stick solely to the notes written for cello in the original, but took into account the capabilities of the guitar.

There was considerable use of rubato, but the playing could not be called romantic – yet the music perhaps had more emotional impact than it would in the original version.  The delicacy was just enchanting.  The Allemande was most appealing (my note says ‘fab.’), while the Courante was a very fast version.  Throughout the movements there were subtle gradations of dynamics, and a little vibrato.  Tsiboulski made this music truly enthralling.  The last movement, Gigue, was very robust.  At the end of the Suite, the guitarist retuned his instrument; he did not break up the music by doing so between movements – if there was a slight drop in pitch on one or two strings – so what?

How different a mood we encountered with Sor’s Variations!  There was much more passion in this well-known work.  The varying timbres and volumes Tsiboulski extracted from his instrument by the placement of the right hand were delightful.  He played these variations with more subtlety and variety than I’ve heard them played before.  When playing quietly, he achieved a pianissimo I don’t think I’ve ever experienced from this instrument – and that’s saying something, since it is a quiet instrument – and Tsiboulski explained that among the unusual features of his Australian-made instrument was the fact that it was louder than average with guitars.

The last variation was very robust, by contrast.  Unlike the Bach, the work was played from memory.

Henze’s pieces were three excerpts from a suite of 9 pieces, inspired by poetry by the German poet Hölderlin.  Tsiboulski emphasised that these three were just interludes in the longer work.   There was a lot of fingering in very high positions in these pieces, which were otherwise deceptively simple, yet full of expression.  The second one, which translates as ‘In life the eye often finds’ gave the guitarist much more work to do, while the third was quieter again, but with running motifs, interesting chords and an inconclusive ending.

The next piece, Alfred Uhl’s Sonata classica (1937), was introduced in an entertaining way, with a story about Segovia’s penchant for adding his own gloss to composers’ work; Uhl didn’t like that.   His piece is a ‘take’ on the late 1700s – jokey and German.  Its four movements feature unexpected key changes and accidentals.  The andante second movement was quite idyllic, while the third was fast, with some strumming, which we had not heard so far.  There were reprises of earlier material; the whole featured superb writing for the guitar.

Villa-Lobos’s ‘Valsa Chôro’ from Suite populaire brésilienne was apparently about the composer looking back to his childhood, and writing a European waltz with a Brazilian flavour.  He wrote many Chôros; this was one of the early ones.  It was a charming, very melodic piece.   The guitarist created great feeling with this piece, which had that wistful, regretful tinge that much Brazilian music has.

Albeniz followed; Tsiboulski explained that like Granados and others, Albeniz wrote for the piano music that is frequently played on the guitar, including this suite.  They wrote repertoire for salon performers.  Nevertheless, it is authentic Spanish music.  This piece is particularly well-known.

The final piece was by ‘Little Penguin’ (it being customary in Brazil for popular musicians to be known by nicknames).  Like the Villa-Lobos, there was a touch of that Portuguese melancholy, as in Fado.  The arrangement of the song Carinhoso was very effective, and ended the recital on a lighter note.

It is a long time since I heard a solo guitarist that I enjoyed so much as I did the playing of Alex Tsiboulski.  His playing, choice of programme, and spoken introductions were of a very high order.



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