Popular guitarists with delightful though unfamiliar music at St Andrew’s

Owen Moriarty and Jane Curry – guitars

Music by Fernando Sor, Almer Imamovic, Emilio Pujol and Napoléon Coste

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 21 November, 12:15 pm

Guitarists Jane Curry and Owen Moriarty are familiar figures at the St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts, and the sounds they make are particularly suited to the church’s acoustic. Furthermore, for anyone open to discoveries, more of the guitar repertoire than that of almost any other well-known instrument is unfamiliar. It’s not that only in recent years has it become a popular instrument in the classical music world; in fact, it was familiar in recital by the early 19th century, by a number of excellent guitarist/composers.

And that’s where this recital started.

Composer/guitarists flourishing at that time included François de Fossa, Francesco Molino, Mauro Giuliani, Ferdinando Carulli, Antoine Meissonnier, among many others; even Boccherini and Paganini played and wrote for the guitar. At this Wednesday concert Curry and Moriarty played pieces from that era by Fernando Sor and Napoléon Coste.

Owen Moriarty played three solo pieces before being joined by Jane Curry to play Coste’s Grand Duo Concertante. His first piece was Sor’s Grand Solo, Op 14. Moriarty played its slow Introduction very quietly with great delicacy: little hint of its ‘Grandness’. The arrival of the Allegro was like a sudden powerful beam of light, illuminating it with bright Spanish colours, but yet with a distinct sense of its period – Haydn and the spirit of the French Revolution. There were striking dynamic changes, abrupt pauses and emotional shifts, switching from plaintiveness to confidence. And Moriarty took pains to highlight harmonic changes and the teasing cadences that presaged the end the piece, but carried on regardless.

A piece called Scott’s Guitar was composed by a friend of Moriarty’s, Almer Imamovic, Bosnian by origin, if I heard Moriarty’s preliminary comments correctly; he now teaches in California. It was hard to locate this charming, pensive piece in a national or stylistic context. It lay in the centre of the guitar’s range, relishing the lovely sonority of Moriarty’s instrument and the piece’s emotional subtlety and sense of regret.

A Seguidilla by Emilio Pujol, who was a pupil of Tarrega, and died after a very long life in 1980, reflected a style that most would associate with guitar music: a Spanish dance. Strongly rhythmic, melodically delightful, seeming to endorse a view that merely to be brought up a Spanish musician is to access inexhaustible melodic inspiration. And Moriarty’s playing captured it fluently and with very evident relish.

Then Jane Curry emerged to join Moriarty in a splendid piece by Napoléon Coste: his Grand Duo Concertante. Coste was born in the midst of the Napoleonic era – hence his name; he was a contemporary of Berlioz and Schubert, of Bellini and Donizetti.  It was very emphatically a duo, by no means one instrument accompanying another, so stylistically intimate was it. Naturally, the melody line was handled by each in turn, though it seemed more often to fall to Curry. Its character encouraged me to hear the difference in tone between the two guitars.

The Duo’s form was a very traditional four contrasting movements: Allegro, Andante, Barcarolle and the Finale, Allegro. The opening Allegro was lively enough, but it was its charm and the excellent rapport between the two players that made listening such pleasure, and it made me wonder whether hearing a piece like this might have inspired Chopin’s famous remark that ‘nothing was more beautiful than a guitar – except perhaps, two guitars’. (though given Chopin’s famous acerbity and ungenerosity, that sounds uncharacteristic).

The Andante was thoughtful and seemed an even more delightful example of musical sharing. The Barcarolle created yet another sort of delight, though like any art, there were moments of hesitation and doubt; I was glad it was not played too quickly. The Finale however, was lively and spoke of contentment, highlighting the splendid unanimity of musicianship and spirit between the two.

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