A cello-guitar duo is a relatively rare beast that I can't recall ever having ever been spotted in these parts; it is a combination few people have encountered. That changed when The Adams Duo performed at the Page-Walker Arts and History Center in Cary on April 6. One of our ice storms caused the original February date to be postponed, and perhaps the word didn't get out to those who might have been interested in hearing this unique partnership. This was my first visit to the old Page-Walker hotel (http://www.townofcary.org/depts/prdept/facilities/pwhome.htm [inactive 8/05]), and I was quite impressed with the beauty of the setting and the hospitality of the presenters. They welcomed every person who entered and offered chocolates, and they also provided coffee and wonderful homemade desserts during intermission. There was a photography exhibit throughout the restored hotel, including the room where the recital was held. My one criticism of the presentation itself is the same one I have of any organization that has a concert series in a room where the performers are on the same level as the audience. It would make a tremendous difference both visually and aurally if the artists were on a higher level. Just an inexpensive, hand-built, removable foot-high platform would greatly enhance the experience.
Jonathan Adams, guitar, and Jennifer Thomas, cello, met in 1994 when they were studying music at the University of Georgia. At first, they were drawn to the sound of each other's instrument and wanted to play together. They quickly discovered that there was very little arranged and even less written expressly for the combination of cello and guitar. Rather than being defeated by this, they took the lack of repertoire as a challenge to build their own, through arrangements and original compositions for this unique combination. Their musical collaboration blossomed into a romantic one, and they were married in 1997 - thus the birth of The Adams Duo. For more information, see http://www.theadamsduo.com/ [inactive 6/04].
During the concert Jonathan Adams played both a nylon-string classical guitar and a steel-string guitar built to the same dimensions and specs of a classical guitar. However, both were "plugged in" and played through a small acoustic amplifier. I found this system, especially on the classical guitar, to be bass heavy, resulting in a loss of clarity and brightness for the guitar. The cello, although not directly plugged in, played into a microphone. I found this to be unnecessary since the volume of the cello by itself would have been more than sufficient and would have resulted in a much more warm sound. In fact, for such a relatively small, acoustically live room, they could have done without any amplification.
The majority of the program was taken from works contained on their latest CD, Montana Skies. They began with a charming Brazilian folk tune that quickly demonstrated Jennifer Adams' well-founded technique. She plays with a confident attitude that displays nearly flawless intonation and no obvious technical gaps. Some variation in the timing and speed of vibrato would have added some more contrast to her sound. Jonathan Adams displayed an excellent classical guitar technique and even applied it when playing the steel-string (something that could quickly wear down your right-hand nails!) They played a great variety of works ranging from original compositions by Jonathan Adams to his arrangements of "Here, There, and Everywhere" and "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles. Many of the works involved relatively easy and long, sustained lines by the cello, so it was a nice change to hear a "legit" piece featuring the cello: with the guitar serving as the continuo, Jennifer Adams played Vivaldi's Cello Sonata No. 5, in E Minor. As mentioned before, the guitar accompaniment sounded too muddy, but the cellist displayed a great feel for the music. It would have been nice to hear more of this.
Some of the arrangements that were originally solo guitar works seemed overblown and unnecessary with a cello part added. Andrew York's "Sunburst" and "Canarios" by Gaspar Sanz fell victim to these attempts to improve what work best as solo pieces. My favorite original composition was Jonathan Adams' "Edge of Night," wherein the guitar part imitated the signal of a satellite while the cello represented people on earth, looking up at the stars. There was also a nicely-written quasi-Renaissance piece. An adaptation of the well-known "Gymnopedie No. 1" by Erik Satie was especially effective. They closed the program with two lovely Celtic tunes which when played well, and these were, is like money in the bank for winning over an audience.
The Adams Duo returned and played what may be one of the most famous melodies for cello - "The Swan," from Carnival of the Animals , by Camille Saint-Saëns. This was a disappointing ending since the guitar part had some incorrect harmonies.
My one criticism of their playing itself was the lack of rhythmic give and take. Everything seemed to be played in a very correct, precise and metronomic manner. A little more rubato and freedom would go a long way. There may not be a great deal of literature for this combination, but there are some very excellent works, including those written by Dusan Bogdanovic, who recently appeared in Durham as a member of the Falla Trio. Including some of these in the future would balance out their program quite nicely. Also, with both instruments having such a rich solo repertoire, why not play a few pieces individually to break up the sameness of the cello/guitar sound? These few tweaks would greatly improve the total effect.