Delightful concert by guitar quartet at Lower Hutt

New Zealand Guitar Quartet (Chris Hill, Jane Curry, Tim Watanabe, Owen Moriarty)
Chamber Music Hutt Valley
Music by Paulo Bellinati, J S Bach, Craig Utting, De Falla, Carlos Rafael Rivera, Leo Brouwer, Rimsky-Korsakov

St Mark’s Church, Woburn Road

Wednesday 24 April, 7.30pm

St. Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt, was a venue perfectly suited to a delightful concert by an ensemble such as the New Zealand Guitar Quartet. The warm, yet clear, acoustics showcased the players’ complete technical mastery of their instruments, and enhanced the musical sensitivity of the recital. The relatively intimate scale of the space supported the informal rapport with the audience that the players developed by their commentary on the various works.

They selected a varied and colourful repertoire for the event: the South American, Cuban and Spanish works were all played with a brilliance that conveyed the passion of their folk-music origins, while still exploiting a wide dynamic range that could drop to the most evocative pianissimo of a single raindrop (Cuban Landscape with Rain). Rivera’s colourful Cumba-Quin highlighted the guitars in percussive mode, imitating such instruments as claves, palitos and conga drums, in Rumba forms played with great gusto.

The New Zealand work by Craig Utting was a perfect gem, where two beautifully played melodic outer sections contrasted with a strident middle one. If this movement is typical of the composer’s output he is sadly under-represented in the usual concert repertoire, and it is to the Quartet’s credit that they are giving it some exposure.

In Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol the composer asked various instruments to imitate the guitar in some sections of the work. This would suggest that the suite is ideally suited to transcription for four guitars, yet it proved less than satisfactory, simply because guitars alone cannot capture the amazing range of colours tailored to each instrument in the original. The composer was annoyed by the narrow critical focus on the “quasi guitara” marking, and fired back a lengthy riposte including the comment that “The Capriccio is a brilliant composition for the orchestra. The change of timbres, the felicitous choice of melodic designs and figuration patterns, exactly suiting each kind of instrument, brief virtuoso cadenzas for instruments solo, the rhythm of the percussion instruments, etc., constitute here the very essence of the composition”.

The Bach Brandenburg no.3 was originally written for three each of violins, violas and cellos, with basso continuo. It proved, however, to be the least satisfactory item in this outstanding recital, for two reasons. Firstly, guitar timbres simply cannot offer the same range and complexity as the original string ensemble version. Secondly, the tempi selected were frankly a disservice to an opus which is widely regarded as among the finest musical compositions of the Baroque era.

The hectic gallop of the first movement was upped to breakneck speed in a frantic finale. This ensemble does not need to prove its technical competence and mastery. It could have allowed the intricate Bach polyphony to speak as it should at appropriate tempi. In a less clean acoustic than St. Marks the result would have been a distressing muddle of indistinguishable lines.

These drawbacks, however, did not dim the audience’s enthusiasm and appreciation. At the finish they applauded till they were granted a fiery Tarentella encore, composed by an exiled Chilean group after the Pinochet coup. It was a fitting end to a wonderful evening’s music making by and ensemble that is a huge asset to the Kiwi music scene.

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