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Your Durham-based correspondent traveled to points west for a solo guitar recital in the welcoming confines of the beautiful Whitley Auditorium at Elon University. Whitley was built in 1924 in the aftermath of the fire that consumed Old Main, which included the chapel, which now serves as a small auditorium (seating about 200) and chapel (the only visible signs of this being the organ pipes at the back of the stage). Suitable concert spaces with fine acoustics are difficult to find in North Carolina, and so it is good to be able to report that Whitley, in tip-top repair with gleaming gilding, is wet acoustically, enough so that it was a delightful spot to hear the varied program offered by the fine guitarist Matthew Anderson. All musical genres have their own particular creative figures, and Anderson's program included most of the key composers from the guitar universe, including Tárrega, Brouwer, Sor, and Pujol.
The program opened with two pieces by Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909); first, a rather chromatic prelude in A minor, and then the familiar "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" (Recollections of the Alhambra) in which Anderson fluently spun out a lovely cantabile in repeated notes over the accompanimental figures in the bass.
Next up was Leo Brouwer, a major compositional figure who has two strikes against him with respect to public awareness – being Cuban, and writing for guitar. His "Elogio de la Danza" is very modern in idiom, while still being accessible generally. Anderson brought out this significant voice with crystal clear atonal runs and excellent dynamic control in the opening Lento, and incisive rhythms in the Obstinato, drawing on Afro-Cuban traditions.
One of the moments in which the world of the guitar had more contact with classical music more generally was the Viennese classical period, with important composers for the instrument including Giuliani, Mertz and Sor. Anderson offered the Andante Largo, Op. 5 No. 5, by the latter, taken at an atmospherically slow tempo, quietly and beautifully sustained, demonstrating Anderson's skill in casting an enchanting musical spell, bringing listeners into another and quieter world. In a similar mood was the lengthy and difficult prelude and fugue from the Lute Suite No. 2, S.997, by J. S. Bach, the only non-guitarist on the program.
A lighter moment was provided by the Chet Atkins arrangement of "Black Mountain Rag," after which Anderson, retuning, moved the program to another set of mountains, those of Anatolia, with a substantial composition by Carlo Domeniconi (b. 1947), Koyunbaba, Op. 19, which draws on Turkish folk idioms, with acciacature and other such exotic ornaments, and using an open minor tuning increasing the possibility of resonance. Sometimes composers using foreign idioms seem to do so only for a touch of unusual spice, but Domeniconi (and Anderson) dove in deep, with Anderson demonstrating his virtuosity in the closing Presto. This was very, very good.
The closing "El Abejorro" (The Bee) of Emilio Pujol was a brief lagniappe to close a highly rewarding evening for the fifty or so listeners who had ventured out to Elon on an unseasonably cool night.