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With The Six Strings Attached

New York
Teresa L. Kaufmann Concert Hall at 92 Street Y
12/03/2016 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suite No.1 in G-Major, BWV 1007 (Arr.Valter Despalj)
Mauro Giuliani: Grande Ouverture, op. 61
Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas in A-Major, K. 322, & in E-Major, K. 380
Francisco Tárrega: Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Agustín Barrios Mangoré: La Catedral – Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios
John Lennon & Paul McCartney: Yesterday (arr. Tōru Takemitsu)
Niccolò Paganini: Grand Sonata in A-major, op. 35

Ana Vidovic (Guitar)

A. Vidovic (Courtesy of the artist)

On Saturday evening, December 3, 2016, the young Croatian guitar virtuoso returned to the Kaufmann Hall with a solo recital in the series “Art of the Guitar”. I have not heard this remarkable artist for several years and had forgotten how good she was. It took just a few notes of her Bach Suite to be reminded. Her program offered a typical combination of original compositions and works that were transcribed for guitar. If the program itself was more attractive than truly innovative, her playing was uniformly exceptional.

I am afraid it might be disrespectful to say that the transcription sounds better than the original, but that’s the exact impression I had listening to the opening work on her recital, Bach’s Cello Suite in G-Major, transcribed by the Croatian cellist Valter Despalj. In the opening Prelude the bass line which in the original cello version is too often only implied, here was clearly delineated, especially because sometimes Despalj had the lower register of the score harmonized. Vidovic used judicious hesitations- rather typical for a harpsichord- and applied a very welcome sense of improvisation that cellist don’t often utilize. The subtle harmonization of the bass line helped also in other segments of the Suite and I wonder if the St.Thomas Kantor would not himself have approved those tasteful additions. Under the nimble fingers of the Croatian virtuoso the other movements (Courante, Menuetto and Gigue) acquired the necessary dance-like character sometimes overlooked by violinists or cellists. In the concluding Gigue, Despalj proposed very impressive double-stops which added even more flamboyance to the already embroidered score.

Before proceeding to the next work on her program, Ms.Vidovic, as is her fancy, thanked everyone for coming to hear her play. A nice gesture, perhaps not entirely needed at this point in the program but one that can hardly be faulted. Those words of appreciation for the audience came again right before the final work on the program and again one wondered if it was strategically the best moment to show the artist’s own appreciation.

Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) was one of leading masters of the guitar and his Grandee Overture composed ca.1810 was one of the examples of music that may remind some listeners of a Rossini Overture except that it was written years before Rossini’s works in that form. Giuliani’s Grande Overture was a well developed sonata allegro with a somber introduction and a sizeable coda almost reminiscent in its virtuosity of piano works of Clementi or Hummel. A real tour-de-force!

Two Scarlatti keyboard sonatas followed: the first one in A-Major was a bit brusque, matter of fact and lacking a breathing space between the phrases, but the second in E-Major with its fanfare-effects sounded very idiomatic indeed: it seems that those harpsichord sonatas adapt very effectively for guitar.

The first half of Ms. Vidovic recital concluded with perhaps one of the best known and beloved works in the guitar repertory: Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra. The tremolo effects that accompany this poignant etude were some of the innovations of the composer-performer, whose guitar by Antonio Torres of then visionary design permitted those special sounds. Vidovic offered a beautiful, haunting, evocative rendition of this perennial bon-bon. It is perhaps worth mentioning that Recuerdos de la Alhambra was the only work written for guitar and transcribed for piano known to me. An American virtuoso pianist Alan Weiss, in his youth trained also as a guitarist, fell in love with the piece and tried to see if it would work on piano. The gorgeous and audacious piano transcription is a “killer” for anyone attempting to play it, since the fast, shimmering repeated notes which might be only difficult on guitar are nearly impossible to execute on piano. I urge everyone to invest 5 minutes in listening to Weiss’s own outstanding version on YouTube.

In the second part of the recital we heard works by another guitar virtuoso, Agustín Barrios Mangoré, whose effective three-part composition La Catedral was inspired both by Bach and religion. It was followed by Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios, another religiously oriented piece; its debt to Tárrega’s Recuerdos is more than obvious and it makes them almost sister-works. As charming as it is, I think it would have worked better as an encore. The pop song Yesterday by John Lennon/Paul McCartney in an idiomatic arrangement by Tōru Takemitsu followed.

Ms. Vidovic’s program concluded with a Grand Sonata in A-Major, by Paganini, who was perhaps the first real composer to create virtuoso works for guitar. The same unrelenting virtuosity demanded by his solo violin pieces is ever-present in the three-movement Sonata. The double stops in thirds and tenths, incessant arpeggios and accompaniment based on broken chords evokes keyboard compositions of that era more than strings. However, the slow movement has melodic elements and moods similar to Paganini’s violin concertos. The design and structure of the final set of variations is somewhat reminiscent of Paganini’s Moses variations for the violin. One more friendly banter with more “vocal” members of the truly passionate audience followed right before the lone encore, Isaac Albéniz’s Leyenda . It was perhaps a fitting end as the program closed not only with a transcription, but one that sounds better than the original. Written in 1892 as a prelude to the three-movement suite Chants d’Espagne, Leyenda was originally written for piano, but through Andrés Segovia’s transcription it became a quintessential guitar work and frankly sounds more idiomatic on the guitar.

Vidovic proved herself to be an intensely musical player with an enviable technical command of her instrument. I admired as much her obvious yet not ostentatious virtuosity as her subtlety, tenderness, refinement and sensuousness. Theresa Kaufmann Hall, large as it is, proved to be a very good venue for an instrument of delicate and intimate nature: it is no wonder that many of the city’s best classical guitar events take place there.

On that particular evening, Ms. Vidovic had the rather obvious and not entirely welcome participation of the audience; a few patrons provided an accompaniment of obtrusive, incessant and blatant coughing throughout the first half of the concert. I guess that is often typical for New York audiences, who hold a firm belief that purchasing a ticket gives them freedom of self-expression equal to that of a performer.

Roman Markowicz



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