Gunter Herbig and his Brazilian-German guitar at St Andrew’s lunchtime recital

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts

Gunter Herbig – guitar

Music by Dilermando Reis, J S Bach and Villa-Lobos

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 5 March, 12:15 pm

Gunther Herbig has been a distinguished figure in Wellington music for some years and was for a time head of classical guitar at the New Zealand School of Music; he remains in Wellington though now teaching at Auckland University. His background – born in Brazil and growing up in Portugal and Germany – gives him a unique background as a musician and guitarist, obviously in both linguistic and musical terms.

His first two pieces were by Brazilian composer, Dilermando Reis (1916-1977), whose music was unashamedly sentimental and romantic. It was clear from the start that Herbig felt a strong affinity with him, as he created the feeling that he was playing spontaneously, embraced by the unaffected character of the music. Perhaps not strong in a memorable sense, Ternura and Se ela perguntar suggested to me the retiring sadness of the Portuguese popular fado song tradition, which I happen to be addicted to. One of the characteristics was a beguiling tendency to pause, to hesitate in mid-phrase, in the fashion of 19th century salon music that filled the piano albums found in our grand-parents’ piano stools.

And he finished the recital with the more famous Brazilian, Villa-Lobos: three pieces called ‘chôro’ (I noted his pronunciation: ‘sho’ru’) which, he explained, were not really in that genre. These were pieces from his Suíte popular brasileira written in 1928, based, as their names indicated, on European dances: Mazurka chôro, Schottish chôro and Valsa chôro. The ‘real’ chôros were about 15 in number, written through the 1920s for orchestra or a great variety of instruments.

The mazurka and the waltz bore some signs of their rhythmic inspiration, though I wondered where the composer had picked up his impressions of the schottish. They all offered Herbig the chance to reveal the range of subtle articulation available on the guitar, through plucking with the finger nails or the finger-tips, plucking close to the bridge or over the finger-board, forming the same notes with the left hand high on the fingerboard or near the nut. They were most charming if light-weight pieces by this prolific composer.

(It’s always interesting to be side-tracked when exploring Internet resources. I had not been aware that Villa-Lobos had damaged his reputation in the late 30s by becoming an acolyte of President Getulio Vargas in his third, dictatorial period from 1937 to 1945, writing ‘patriotic’ music after the pattern of other dictators of that time).

The serious, classical piece in the programme was Bach’s first Lute Suite, BWV 996. As with the previous pieces, Herbig spoke about its provenance, though without using the microphone and he was hard to hear, even eight or so rows back. Bach was apparently inspired to write these, though not a lutenist himself, by the great lute composer and player Sylvius Leopold Weiss, who was almost exactly Bach’s contemporary. It sounded fine on the guitar for Herbig had the taste and skill to adorn the music with enlivening variety, in dynamics and rubato, in articulation and pacing, capturing the charming meandering character of the Präludium, lending interest to the Allemande by seeming to disguise its rhythm and giving the Courante a very deliberate pace so that it seemed to be jogging rather than running; it allowed the sophisticated melodic line to be properly enjoyed. Herbig’s skill in employing all the refined techniques at his command, as well as all sorts of appropriate ornaments, was best displayed in leisurely paced Sarabande; the two last movements, Bourrée and Gigue, captured a lively spirit in dancing rhythms. Was Bach (or Herbig) teasing us by bringing his gigue to what seemed a somewhat unannounced end?

In all, music that was very skilled, balanced and highly suitable for the digestion of empadas or bratwurst.




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