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S & H Concert Review

Bach, Rodrigo, Bogdanovic, Henze, Brouwer, George Vassilev (guitar), Purcell Room, 4th September 2003 (MB)


Guitar recitals are a rarity in London (although John Williams will also give one next month at the Wigmore Hall). This one, by the Bulgarian guitarist George Vassilev, was certainly well attended, even if the music making turned out to be inconsistent and variable.

It is questionable whether Bach transcribes well to the guitar. Vassilev’s performance of Bach’s Suite for Lute BMV 996 was often far too monochromatic to elicit much detail, and the inner sound world of counterpoint and harmony that is so symptomatic of Bach on the violin or cello was largely underplayed. The performance here was also rather anodyne (not helped by the fact it was also played with no vibrato), with little effort made to differentiate between tempi – the deviation in pacing between the Allemande and Courante was negligible, for example.

Rodrigo’s Invocacion Y Danza was more sprightly done, although again a variable technique occasionally seemed to make the performance less involving than it might have been. No such problems were evident in Dusan Bogdanovic’s Introduction and Passacaglia which was secure in both technique and intonation and finally showed Vassilev interacting with his audience.

Hans Werner Henze is one of the few great living composers to have written relatively extensively for the guitar. Drei Tientos fur Gitarre Allein aus "Kammermusik 1958" maybe much shorter pieces than, for example, his guitar concerto, An Eine Aolsharfe, or the complex sonatas, Royal Winter Music, but they inhabit a peculiarly Henzian sound world. Drei Tientos was originally conceived for guitar, tenor and eight other instruments and, in part, the spectral writing for the first movement seemed almost too nakedly conceived without accompaniment in this performance. Vassiliev’s playing in the upper register (which this movement exploits) was almost too skeletal to do the piece justice. The second, both more rhythmic and impetuous, was cleanly articulated but the third movement seemed destined to suffer from this guitarist’s inability to develop colour from his instrument. What are theoretically three separate chorales didn’t seem as such.

Bogdanovic’s Sonata (1978) and Brouwer’s El Decameron Negro are both multi faceted pieces, though the Sonata at least strikes a note of Balkan ethnicity (which in part this recital was here to promote). Perhaps because of its geo-politicisation, Vassilev was more at ease since the playing was richly toned, even tenebrous at times. If it recalls the Shostakovich of the First Cello Concerto in the Allegro Ritmico Vassilev also gave it an evocative brooding harmonic sound world that was uniquely Bogdanovic’s. It was the highlight of an evening that was largely a disappointment.

Marc Bridle






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