Beguiling, wide-ranging guitar recital from Owen Moriarty a fine substitute for lunch

Owen Moriarty – solo guitar

Music by Turina, Nikita Koshkin, Santiago de Murcia, Tarrega and Donal Macnamara

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 11 May, 12:15 pm

As noted in my review of the recital by NZSM guitar students on 20 April, this programme was to have been by the students, while Moriarty would have played on 20 April.

It was well worth the wait. Each of Moriarty’s recitals produces an extraordinary range of music either written or arranged for the guitar, from all eras from the Renaissance to the present. This recital spanned from the early 18th century to about 1980.

First was Turina’s Hommage (sometimes – perhaps in Catalan – Homenaje) a Tarrega. Like the other famous Spanish composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Turina composed few works for guitar; but many of the piano pieces have been transcribed for guitar. He wrote five, this ‘Homage to Tarrega’, being his last for guitar. It has two movements: Garrotin (Catalan for ‘stick’) and Soleares (I guess it has to do either with the sun or being alone). The first a steady-paced piece in common time, the second more flowing and perhaps Andalusian in character.

The amplification worried me a bit at the beginning – it diminished some of the subtlety of the music and its performance, but I stopped noticing quite soon.

Then came the most unusual of guitar pieces, Nikita Koshkin, a prominent Russian composer and guitarist, born in 1956. The Prince’s Toys is evidently one of his most famous pieces, a story paralleling Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges – the tale of a spoilt, cruel young prince who’s nasty to his toys and suffers his retribution. But without the microphone, I caught little of what Moriarty said: there are twelve pieces in the suite.

The three movements that Moriarty played exhibited the surprising and often highly virtuosic range of sounds available to a skilled guitarist, sometimes combining gentle strumming under a more prominent melodic line, involving left hand plucking; surprising quiet passages; tapping or merely brushing the belly of the instrument while other hands (so it often seemed) perform high-speed acrobatics from end to end of the finger-board.

Santiago de Murcia (the region between Andalusia and Valencia) was a decade older than Bach and Domenico Scarlatti; most of his music is lost, but Moriarty described the discovery in Mexico half a century ago of a revelatory collection of his music, and other music has been discovered recently in Chile, though there is no suggestion that he ever travelled to Latin America. The three movements of his Sonata in D, arranged by Bill Kanengiser, who was one of Moriarty’s teachers in Los Angeles, revealed a melodic and stylistic gift that draws on popular musical traditions. There was a slow and gentle middle movement in triple time, of singular charm, and a lively gigue-like last movement that was both subtle and fluent; and so were they played.

Then came three pieces by Tarrega himself: an Alborada, hushed tones suggesting a slow dawn, Rosita, that seemed full of reminiscences, quite taxing technically; and then the Jota, which I encountered first (half a century ago?) in the splendid piece by Glinka: Jota Aragonesa, which I haven’t heard on the radio for decades. There are many others, including the entr’acte to Act 4 of Carmen, by Liszt and Saint-Saëns, etcetera. It evolved in various ways and was quite extended, though it still ended rather too soon.

Finally, in a sort of family reminiscence, of which I caught little, Moriarty talked about an Irish piece by Donal Macnamara who lived in the 18th century; A Gaoth Andheas (something about the south wind). Typically Irish in tone, gently lamenting and nostalgic. The programme note follows a website that I too stumbled on: “South Wind was written in the 1700s by “Freckled Donal Macnamara” in homesickness for his homeland in County Mayo, as described in Donal O’Sullivan’s wonderful book, “Songs of the Irish.”

A delightful recital to be sure!