Diverting and highly accomplished lunchtime guitar quartet concert at St Andrew’s

New Zealand Guitar Quartet (Owen Moriarty, Tim Watanabe, Christopher Hill, Jane Curry)

Music by Paulo Bellinati, Manuel de Falla, J S Bach, Almer Imamovich, Rimsky-Korsakov, Inti-Illimani

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 7 August, 12:15 pm

Whether it was quasi-musical competition from construction work outside, or a quick assessment of the likely tastes of the audience, there were changes to the programme. We did not hear Craig Utting’s Onslow College Suite. (Lyell Cresswell hasn’t so honoured my old secondary school).

Baião de Gude by Paulo Bellinati finds a surprising number of entries through Google, with numerous You-Tube performances. However, live performance is the thing; it began with the most beguiling, whispered sounds that seemed hardly possible from guitars, but it was the chorus of four guitars, I suspect, that removed the more obvious articulation sounds that usually accompany a single guitar. Though melody seemed unnecessary in the context of the impressionist washes of colour and graphic patterns, what hints of melody there were, were clearly secondary to the swift, rushing effects that most characterized the piece.

In place of the Utting piece were three pieces by de Falla, from El amor brujo: ‘Cancion del amor dolido’ (Song of suffering love), ‘Danza del terror’ (obvious) and ‘Danza ritual del Fuego’ (Ritual fire dance), offered a wonderful display of the finesse and virtuosity of the quartet, its precision and its exact positioning of rhythmic patterns.  Though the ensemble was always something to admire, the line of each guitar was always audible too. Each was skilfully arranged from the orchestral original, by Owen Moriarty, and they came across in the most idiomatic, authentic manner.

The arrangement of Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto was just as successful, again sounding as if Bach was writing for guitars; for there seems indeed to be a disposition in much of Bach’s music for performance on the guitar (not to mention on almost any instrument you’d like); although later in the first movement an alternating 2-note motif became a bit persistent.   Owen Moriarty here played his 7-stringed guitar, which allows an extension of a fourth (I think) below the guitar’s bottom E string; its contribution was often conspicuous, in providing richer bass sonority. The second movement (there really isn’t a middle movement) was excellently fast, its rhythms and dynamics undulating elegantly, and the expectation of closure beautifully cultivated in a diminuendo.

Almar Imamovich is a Bosnian friend of both Owen and Jane stemming from their days at the University of Southern California; he arranged Sarajevo Nights, originally for flute and guitar, specifically for and dedicated to the New Zealand Guitar Quartet. Very lively, complex rhythmically, it seemed to hold no terrors for the quartet which brought it to life, whether or not it concealed reflections on the terrible experiences of the 1990s, with obvious affection and total conviction.

It was probably no surprise that Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol proved such a success in this arrangement by W Kanengiser for guitar quartet. The 7-string guitar, here in Jane’s hands, looked after the important harp parts in this colourful and tuneful work, capturing the essence of Spain without sentimentality, or any sort of expressionist excess; their perfect ensemble was exposed for all to hear. The cadenzas that suggest the guitar, were of course particularly effective, especially in the fourth
movement, Scena e canto Gitano.  And the excitement of the end of the last movement that is generated in the orchestral original was palpable.

There was an encore, of a Tarantella by Chilean composer Inti-Illimani, transcribed by Christopher Hill, offering another fine display of fleet fingering, syncopated rhythms and a melodious central section.

This mix of arrangements of well-loved music and attractive contemporary pieces specially composed for guitar quartet makes a very satisfactory concert programme, and offers a fine opportunity to enjoy this highly accomplished, world-class ensemble, a matter that I trust New Zealand audiences understand.


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