The first word that came to mind while listening to Soloduo was "elegance."
Italian guitarists Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli, playing as Soloduo, were featured performers during the 12th annual East Carolina University Summer Guitar Workshop and Solo Competition. They displayed a sense of refined musicianship throughout their outstanding recital at A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall.
Mela and Micheli, who have played together regularly since 2003, exhibited a masterful interplay that was both seamless and effortless, with neither musician dominating. Instead, they played most sympathetically with the music and with each other.
Two well-known composers were represented on the program: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Mauro Giuliani. But works by two lesser-known composers — Antoine de Lhoyer (1768-1852) and Ferdinand Rebay (1880-1953) — made the concert especially pleasing. Micheli has special interest in Rebay's works, and the two guitarists have recorded works by Lhoyer.
Lhoyer's Duo Concertant in D-minor, Op. 34/2 began the program, and it was a true collaborative effort from start to finish. The four-movement piece opened and closed with bright allegros and also contained a lively minuet and a lovely adagio. Mela and Micheli have recorded Lhoyer's duo concertants, and they seemed quite at ease with the demands of the music, blending well with identical dynamics and timing.
In the adagio movement, in particular, they traded melody lines and accompaniments, including tricky runs up and down the guitar neck; and the pianissimo close was gorgeous. The rondo: allegro at the end was played brilliantly, highlighted by Micheli's vigorous fingering.
Viennese composer Ferdinand Rebay wrote his Grosses Duo in A minor for standard classical guitar and a classical guitar tuned to a lower pitch ("für Prim Gitarre und Quint Bass Gitarre"). This composition, from about 1940 but discovered only during the past year, received its American premiere in the Greenville recital.
The three-movement piece is quite attractive. The opening melody conveys a feeling of suspense, then gives way to a lovely lead melody, played by Micheli. The second movement is a set of variations on a Schubert lieder ("Morgengruss"), and Mela's bass guitar line that leads one of the variations contrasted nicely with a delicate melody played later by Micheli.
Soloduo also played three preludes and fugues from Castelnuovo-Tedesco's "The Well-Tempered Guitar," Op. 199, and Giuliani's "Variazioni Concertanti," Op. 130.
The preludes and fugues, dating from 1962, open with a musical line resembling a chase scene from a silent movie and also include martial-sounding themes and extensive use of arpeggios. Mela and Micheli exchanged themes in the fugue portions especially well, most notably in the final section, and Micheli played beautiful harmonics in the final section.
Giuliani's Variations received an excellent reading, with Micheli's arpeggio runs at the beginning contrasting nicely with Mela's march-like theme. Mela played a lovely melody over Micheli's high-pitched arpeggios as the movement ended and then had the lead melody line in the second movement. Micheli again scored high marks with his harmonics in the final movement, leading into a full, rich sound from both players to end the piece.
Soloduo showed extraordinary polish and skill throughout. The playing included both delicacy and strength, intimacy, and fullness of sound, with few if any finger squeaks noticeable. Micheli and Mela received critical acclaim for their appearance during the 2006 festival, and they were the highlight of the 2007 festival as well.
The next night, four talented guitarists competed for the top prize in the D'Addario Collegiate Solo Competition finals. Each player performed two selections for approximately 15 minutes.
The winner was Austin Moorhead of Phoenix, Ariz., a recent Arizona State University graduate who played Sergio Assad's "Fantasia Carioca" and Miguel Llobet's "Scherzo vals." The second prize winner in the St. Joseph (Mo.) International Guitar Festival in May, Moorhead displayed some of the same elegance and effortlessness shown by Soloduo the night before.
The Assad piece is quite contemporary, with no sustained melody line propelling it forward. It is technically demanding, and Moorhead met the challenges well. His second selection was a delightful waltz, brief yet lovely.
Other competition highlights: Jeremy Collins' interpretation of "Fantasia" by John Dowland, Kevin Fleming's reading of Giuliani's "Variations on a Theme of Handel," Op. 107, and Chad Ibison's playing of Giuliani's Six Variations on "Ich bin a Kohlbauern Bub," Op. 49.
The festival also included three pairs of solo recitals July 14 and 15. This year's performers were Joseph Ikner, Robert Sharpe, Mary Akerman, Richard Todd, Andrew Zohn, and festival artistic director Elliot Frank. Approximately 70 students and competitors participated in this year's event, the largest number by far, according to Frank, who started the guitar studies program at ECU.