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