“He let the music speak for him, and as a teacher, he was able to establish a quiet, understated rapport entirely appropriate for the appreciative audience in front of him.”
A summer Fringe Thursday afternoon was deceptively sunny and warm, so I was pleased to see a good crowd in the cool of the church.
The guitar is an easy musical instrument to play badly and a fiendishly difficult one to play well. With frets clearly marked and six strings positioned level (as opposed to arched as on the violin family) it is easy to strum, and the vast panoply of pop music is based on just three chords. Easy, especially if a pickup is doing the amplification for you. But when it comes to something more sophisticated, whether it be the complex rhythms of the Bossa Nova or the plaintive wail of the Flamenco, we are in different, dangerous and exposed territory. The guitar gives off surprisingly little sound; the left hand requires the iron application of finger tips, the right the looseness of a painter’s brush yet with thumb and three fingers all operating independently. That’s why I took it up late in life partially to ward off Alzheimer’s, for it is a real brain stretcher. And it looks so easy…….
On Thursday we were in the company of one man and his guitar, an American born, Scotland domiciled since 1989 Stephen Morrison who took us through a catalogue of music that ranged from the Renaissance to the twentieth century including such greats as Fernando Sor and Joaquin Rodrigo (yes, the one who wrote that concerto) in an hour long afternoon of entertainment. Stephen Morrison is an accomplished, modest guitarist who said not a word during his recital. It wasn’t necessary for, of course, he let the music speak for him, and as a teacher, he was able to establish a quiet, understated rapport entirely appropriate for the appreciative audience in front of him.
Three Pavans by Luys Milan (1500-1561) played in the lutenist style (and originally written for a vihuela, a guitar like instrument of six double course strings that were apparently tuned in unison) took us back immediately to the sixteenth century, followed by Les Folies d’Espagne & Menuet Op 15a by Fernando Sor (1778-1839) albeit written over 250 years later, demonstrated again the plucked chord style of writing and playing as Sor set out his stall as the one of the great composers of classical guitar as we have come to know it.
We then firmly entered the late nineteenth century of guitar composition and heard two pieces by Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909), Danza Mora and Recuerdos de la Alhambra, interspersed with Aranjuez, ma pensée by Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999). The Rodrigo was arranged by the composer in a monophonic setting with very occasional chording. Meant to show off one of the most heartfelt melodies of all time and pleasingly familiar, it did not work, partly because of the deeply restrained, unflashy nature of the guitarist’s style. Alhambra, also deeply familiar, somehow worked better.
Centrepiece of the Recital was a break from the Spanish composers, Scottish composer Thea Musgrave’s (b. 1928) Postcards from Spain (Five Serenades). The work, written in 1995, seeks to conjure a mood of impressionism but with the exception of the second movement Molto Espressivo came across as largely abstract in style.
Stephen Morrison concluded the recital with Sonata Op.61 by Joaquin Turina (1882-1949), a pleasant piece in three movements where the impressionistic reflections of Paris were effective, and Preludio Y Danza by Julian Orbon (1925-1991). An Asturian who moved to Cuba and then New York this was his only composition for guitar, and like all good things, left one wishing he had written more.
So, overall our hour long recital was an interesting musical journey through the musical history of the classical guitar, amply demonstrating its potential for technique, notwithstanding its limitations in dynamics.
Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 8 August)