June 27 marked the finale of the annual East Carolina University Summer Guitar Workshop. Organized and directed by Elliot Frank, head of the Guitar Program at ECU, this festival, affectionately known by former participants as "FrankFest," has grown into one of the best summerworkshops for classical guitarists on the East Coast. Frank and his invited guest clinicians, all well-known teachers and classical guitar performers, instruct participants of all levels from beginners (of all ages) to aspiring young concert artists.
On Thursday night, the Festival audience heard a fine recital by Jason Vieaux, now head of the Guitar Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and witnessed the awarding of the four top prizes for the Festival's solo competition with the First Prize of $1,000 going to David Tercero. Vieaux has matured into an accomplished artist since his triumph at the 1992 Guitar Foundation of America Solo Competition, an event he won at the tender age of 19. His playing is characterized by great variety in articulation and tone color, a solid yet flexible rhythmic sense, and a communicative, thoughtful musicality. His on-stage demeanor avoids the amusical theatrics, phonily-accented monologues from the stage, shrill grating tone and virtuosic self caricature that marred virtuoso guitarist Eliot Fisk's March 2 recital for the Great Artists Series in Raleigh. The program for this recital was a variation of what Vieaux played for his Triangle Guitar Society concert last November, juxtaposing works by Manuel Ponce (1882-1948), Frank Martin (1890-1974), José Luis Merlin (b.1952), Bach (1685-1750) and Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) in a manner that explored the entwined worlds of Iberian and Latin American music and the ties between baroque and twentieth century music. Beginning with the charming and concise "Sonatina Meridional" (1932), the last of five sonatas Mexican composer Ponce wrote for Andrés Segovia, a work in a Spanish idiom more reflective of the Costa del Sol than Andalucia, Vieaux played with rhythmic verve and musical directness, bringing a lightness of touch and coloristic variety to the outer movements while making explicit the homage to cante jondo flamenco singing heard in the weightier middle movement, entitled "Copla." Written a year after the "Sonatina Meridional," the Quatre pièces brèves (1933, rev. 1955) of the Swiss composer Frank Martin represent an entirely different facet of 20th century music. Also written for Segovia, who rejected them (as was his bent with moderns from Stravinsky on), these pieces waited over twenty years to be revived by Julian Bream, a champion of contemporary music for the guitar written by major composers. Martin's four-movement Suite (the movements of which are Prélude, Air, Plainte and Comme une Gigue), following the composer's consistent practice, combines Baroque models, most notably Bach, with a modern musical idiom to create a darker, more dissonant style.
The Prélude establishes this atmosphere immediately and, as played by Vieaux, the rhythmically active bass melody sounded clearly over the pedal tones emanating from the open treble strings of the guitar. The delicate and harmonically beautiful Air, a sarabande in all but name, occasioned an equally delicate rendition by the artist, while providing a respite from the turbulence of its companion movements. The Plainte, the emotional heart of this Suite, features the melody accompanied by repeatedly strummed chords. Vieaux built the emotional climax of this movement thoughtfully, allowing the audience to chart both the structure and emotional content of the movement. He concluded with a rousing and yet precise rendition of the complicated two-against-three rhythms or hemiolas found in the Comme une Gigue, a technically challenging piece that ends this brief but major work of the modern guitar repertoire.
After the emotionally and technically taxing Martin, Vieaux returned to the music of Latin America with the "Suite del Recuerdo" (1992), a collection of 5 national dances by Argentinean guitarist-composer Merlin. He performed this less-than-interesting music expertly, combining technical expertise with rhythmic drive to produce an audience-pleasing experience. However, the world of Argentinean guitar music contains music of much greater musical depth as can be heard on a new Naxos CD, Guitar Music of Argentina (Naxos CD 8.555058). Vieaux, with his obvious attraction to Latin American music and his great skill in playing it, should make a successful case for Argentinean guitar music of greater substance than the Merlin Suite.
The second half began with the Fugue from the Sonata No. 1 in G Minor for unaccompanied violin (S.1011) by Bach, played in its original key rather than the more usual guitar key of A Minor. This complex and demanding work was given a vital performance with the counterpoint unfolding melodically in long lines. Fugal entries and the rare departures from the fugal texture sounded natural and unforced, an approach aided by the performer's steady tempo and rhythmic crispness.
Vieaux then played Ponce's "Sonata Clasica," a four-movement pastiche in "the style of Fernando Sor" requested by Segovia, who hoped to pass the work off à la Fritz Kreisler as an original composition by Sor. While the sonata has moments of charm and was well-played throughout, it remains an unfortunate example of Ponce allowing himself to be bullied by Segovia into writing music that obscured his distinctive compositional voice. In addition, next to none of the work, with the exception of parts of the Minuet, accurately mimics Sor's compositional style.
The recital concluded with nearly flawless, well-thought-out and musical performances of two standards, Albéniz's "Asturias" and the malagueña "Rumores de la Caleta." Vieaux's variety of articulations and tone color, his rhythmic drive and great skill in transitioning from the more active outer portions to the singing middle sections of each piece and then back again made each of these chestnuts sound fresh despite their over exposure in guitar recitals.
Such a fine performance would occasion any audience to ask for more and we were no exception. Vieaux returned three more times to play short encores including a scintillating "Dansa Brasiliera" by Jorge Morel and Fernando Bustamante's "Misionera" (arranged by Morel), a malagueña in Argentinean guise in which Vieaux displayed a wonderfully even and full tremolo. Finally, he obliged with a heartfelt performance of one of Ponce's loveliest miniatures, "Por ti mi Corazón," the second of the Tres Populares Canciones Mexicanas. Overall, Vieaux's playing combines stunning technique, a muscular and full tone, and great dynamic and articulative variety with a thoughtful yet direct musicianship. It's a pleasure to hear him play and I hope he'll return to the Triangle, Down East, or any other part of North Carolina as soon as possible.
We are pleased to introduce Joel Mauger, currently a doctoral candidate in Musicology at UNC-Chapel Hill. He maintains an active interest in playing music too through his continuing study of the classical guitar and its literature in addition to having recently taken up the tenor banjo to play Irish Traditional music. He is a great fan of solo piano recordings of all vintages and a new member of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild board.