Interesting exploration of varied guitar music in NZSM’s students’ showcase

New Zealand School of Music: St Andrew’s Showcase week

Guitar students: Jake Church, George Wills, Dylan Solomon

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Thursday, 8 October 2015, 12.15pm

The last of the four showcase concerts from the New Zealand School of Music offered guitarists a platform. One of the four programmed players could not appear, meaning that a piece by New Zealand composer Mike Hogan, Hammerowen, was omitted.

Thus, in contrast to the hour-long viola concert on Wednesday, this one was about ten minutes shorter than the normal 45 minutes.

Two guitarists calling themselves Duo Kita, Jake Church and George Wills, began with two pieces from Brazilian composer Sergio Assad’s Summer Gardens Suite. It rather established the character of the whole concert: undemonstrative, gentle, subtle, discrete, for it supplied an appropriate though back-to-front opening piece, Farewell, a restrained and regretful lament.

Twentieth century guitar music sometimes seems to have little connection with the popular image of guitar music, probably coloured in the imagination by that of the great Spanish composers. In these two pieces the resources of the two instruments are carefully and imaginatively exploited and the expressive potential of a full range of dynamics (other than fortissimo, though careful amplification can achieve striking effects), and articulations deriving from the variety of plucking techniques. The second piece, Butterflies had little connection with either Schumann’s inventions or of Offenbach’s boisterous ballet score; dominated by a rather a hypnotic, self-reflective spirit that was driven by a repeated, rising four-note motif.

Jake Church remained in his place and then introduced the concert; unfortunately I did not catch certain key details (the microphone was iffy) and had to check things later. He explained that he was about to play a Bach suite that was different from that in the programme: the Suite in E flat, BWV 998 which, according to the usual reference source, was written for keyboard but later arranged for guitar. “Arranged for guitar, it is usually played in D major with a ‘Drop D’ tuning [that means the low E string is tuned down a tone to D]. Julian Bream played it in a BBC2 broadcast on television in early 1978 at the All Saints chapel of New Wardour Castle, when he announced it as ‘of vital importance’.” (Wikipedia). Church played the Prelude and the third movement, Allegro.

The Prelude was quietly cheerful with rolling triplets while the Allegro was a dance-like piece with quicker triplets, quite charming. I could well understand how guitarists were happy to purloin it, under what-ever pretext, from the plentifully-endowed keyboard players.

And Jake Church followed that with a Levantine Suite by Dusan Bogdanovich, born in Yugoslavia (presumably Serbia) just 50 years ago. One of the most distinguished contemporary guitar composers, his three movement work was an impressive exercise in quite complex counterpoint and rhythms, interesting textures, often delicately decorated, and Church’s playing was up to its demands. I confess to losing track of the shifts between the three sections, but there was an episode involving fractured scale passages, and it came to an end as the composer would have wished, without rhetoric or attention seeking.

Dylan Solomon’s offering was one of Scarlatti’s 500 or so keyboard sonatas , K 213 in D minor, a steady-paced, deliberate piece in which the original conception for harpsichord could be readily heard, without creating any sense that the guitar was inappropriate; a short pause in the middle led to a repeat that seemed somewhat of a variation on the first section, at least in tone and articulation. It was admirable.

Tarrega’s Adelita and Preludio No 2 was played by the other half of the Duo Kita, George Wills. It was a charming revelation of the gifts of a composer whom most of us would know only from the unforgettable Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Here was the same melodic gift, gently paced; the first piece sounded to me more improvisatory, ‘preludish’ than the more song-like second piece and I wondered whether Wills had played Adelita second for it sounded more song-like, restrained and perhaps infused by a feeling for whoever Adelita was.

George Wills brought the recital to an end with Danza Negra by Columbian composer Lucas Saboya. The title rang bells but I found it was a recollection of a Dansa Negra by Brazilian composer Guanieri – a piano piece played by Katherine Stott at the Nelson Chamber Music Festival earlier this year (useless trivia).

The real enigma rested with the programme note that referred to Saboya’s piece as part of Suite Ernestina, the last part of which contains an ‘allusion’ to a Danza negra by one Antonio Lauro’s Suite Venezolana. In a samba rhythm with a generalised South American character (meaning I’m not really able to pin-point the melodic and rhythmic styles), it involved virtuosic scales and other fast finger-work that Wills handled with impressive, idiomatic skill.

Though the recital was rather abbreviated, it gave the happy few who were there the chance to expand their musical horizons with both original guitar music and excellent adaptations from the classical masters from three most adept instrumentalists.

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