This is a community inundated with arts presentations, and you would think yet another concert on the fall schedule might evidence market fatigue, but guitarist Benjamin Bunch packed the Transylvania Arts Center* to overflowing with public and students alike for his solo appearance, performing a long and fairly standard program in the tradition of Andrés Segovia. Heavy on music composed by or about Manuel de Falla and Heitor Villa-Lobos, the content was framed by a flurry of Spanish and South American works. He played a total of 22 pieces by Abel Carlevaro, Joào Pernambuco, Miguel Llobet, Francis Poulenc (the lone French composer), Joaquin Turina, Enrique Granados, Isaac Albéniz, and Vicente Asencio. The result was a musical journey on a rich sound plane.
The first half was all South American music, beginning with a set of pieces by Villa-Lobos. First was the Choros No. 1, with brisk tempo, abundant rubatos, and rhythmic verve. The set then unfolded with the Preludes Nos. 1 and 2 – the first, reflecting its unpublished form, was taken from a 1942 recording by V-L himself. The cadenza from the Guitar Concerto followed, and the group ended with the 11th Etude. Next came two pieces by the Uruguayan performer, composer, and fastidious pedagogue Abel Carlevaro. From his own studies with Segovia and personal contact with Villa-Lobos, Carlevaro developed an intense and unique perspective of the guitar, admirably expressed in his "Campo" and "Tamboriles." They are highly idiomatic and tend to use arpeggio and repeated figures as the primary compositional devices. There was quite a bit of "noodling" and use of the golpe – the percussive tap on the soundboard.
Ending the 32-minute run-up to intermission were two pieces by violinist João Teixeira Guimarães, who was born in Jatobá, Pernambuco, but spent a majority of his time in Rio de Janeiro. In these pieces, we find peaks and valleys of sound, such that it is difficult to know what was intended – often a common trait in composers "guesting" on an unfamiliar instrument. The rhythms got lost amid limited harmonic exploration.
After intermission were four more sets of multiple composers beginning with Miguel Llobet ("Lo Rossinyol"), Falla (Homenaje, "Le Tombeau de Debussy"), Francis Poulenc (Sarabande for Guitar, written for Ida Presti), and Joaquin Turina ("Soleares," from Hommage à Tarrega). Despite what appears incongruous in print, the sonic and motivic relationship among all these pieces was quite satisfying. The Falla is a demandingly rich dirge of near perfect proportions. The Poulenc featured nice arcs of phrase. The Turina, a favorite of audiences anticipating some Spanish zoom, sounded a little hysterical at times.
Next came two traditional guitar transcriptions – "Cadiz," by Isaac Albéniz, and Spanish Dance No. 5, by Enrique Granados. Bunch has played these war horses for at least 30 years, and it showed in near-faultless performances. "Cadiz" was given great poetic power; the Granados featured a chorale section played in the top register of the instrument. These were followed immediately by two very interesting works by Vicente Asencio – "Elegia, Hommage to Manuel de Falla," and "Tango de la Casada infiel." These were the most tonally adventurous works of the program, and this is not always a good thing on a guitar where "equal temperament" is an adverb. Here there was plenty of Latin rubato, but the "Tango," a wonderful work, was not played particularly well.
The program ended with five pieces taken from Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat: a free-form Introduction, "The Corregidor," "Dance of the Corregidor," "The Miller's Wife," and "The Miller's Dance," a farruca. Surprisingly brief, this group proved to be the perfect ending, with a combination of all rhythmic and emotional elements and rich in Spanish lore. The lone encore was "El Abejorro" by Emilio Pujol, having to do with the flight of a bee!
Bunch, one of eight children from Statesville, NC, began playing guitar at age 18 under guidance from American Robert Guthrie and later graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts, studying under Jesus Silva. He then went to Europe for further study at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy, under Oscar Ghiglia and with Konrad Ragossnig at the Musik-Akademie in Basel, Switzerland, where he currently teaches. For many years, he has enjoyed a dual relationship with Europe and the U.S., performing and teaching.
The day after his concert, he conducted a master class in the Porter Center concert hall for guitar students of Brevard College. Bunch pressed the value of his influences, education, and experience by dissecting the students' performances while praising their efforts and providing scholarly stylistic analysis. His insight and suggestions show the influences of Segovia, and certain technique trademarks of guitarist John Williams are clear. His technique is facile and fluid, and his passagework is consistently steady and balanced. His instrument operated under a slight penalty at the Arts Center, but in the Porter Center it presented a far more unified and brilliant sound.
Bunch then left for a visit with relatives in Florida, to be followed by concert appearances in England, Portugal, Switzerland, and Mozambique. We expect to see him back in Brevard next September.
*The Transylvania Arts Center is centrally located in Brevard in what was once Sacred Heart Church. The cornerstone reads 1949. It is admirably administered by a group of volunteers quick to summon chairs for overflow crowds – and to put them away at evening's end.