When classical guitarists make the decision to step out of the role of solitary performer and play music with others, their first partner is either another lonely guitarist or a flutist. Both combos are filled with a rich and varied repertoire, but teaming the very different sound of the flute (and its old relatives of the recorder family) is especially rewarding to player and listener alike. On this program we heard some of the greatest practitioners of their individual instruments and this pairing. The Eno River Artists Series, in conjunction with the Triangle Guitar Society, presented a recital by guitarist Antigoni Goni and flutist Laura Gilbert. This long-awaited event took place at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (ERUUF) church in Durham.
Goni, a winner of the prestigious Guitar Foundation of America competition in the mid-90s, is a globe-trotting soloist who has garnered critical acclaim as a concert artist. Flutist Laura Gilbert is a founding member of Aureole, a flute/viola/harp trio, as well as soloist with major orchestras and chamber music ensembles. Goni and Gilbert formed their duo to primarily perform and advocate for folk-inspired classical music. Tonight’s program was an excellent microcosm of this musical ethos and introduced most of us to composers and works that until tonight was unfamiliar.
I was informed just before the concert began that there would be many changes to the printed program and indeed there were. The evening began with what has become one of the most well-known and oft-played works for flute and guitar: Astor Piazzola’s L’Histoire du Tango. As the name implies, this is supposed to be, well, a history of the tango, the Argentinian dance that Piazzola has elevated to concert art form and has used as a basis for nearly all of his compositions. Frankly, I find this work to be overplayed and overvalued and not nearly up to the quality of his Tango Suite for two guitars. L’Histoire is in three movements but they played only two with the middle movement played first followed by the first movement. I was not hearing or feeling what is perhaps the most important aspect of this music: accents, accents, accents. I felt no real energy or musical investment from the performers.
Goni then played alone two short pieces by the great guitarist composer Francisco Tárrega. These romantic miniatures showcased Goni’s beautiful phrasing and warm, round tone in what were perfect vehicles for her. Then it was Gilbert’s turn all by her lonesome. She played about a dozen variations out of more than 30 on the very popular tune “Les Folies D’Espagna” composed by Marin Marais. Originally written for gamba, Gilbert made a convincing case for this transcription with remarkable breath control, a ravishing sound and technical chops to spare. The first half closed with a great arrangement of Béla Bartók’s Roumanian Folkdances. Having just played the orchestral version of this, it was great to hear this more intimate transcription played with such rhythmic vitality and sense of the earthy background of these six brief movements.
The second half had most of us confused as to what was playing, what just played and what was next. The second listed work, Suite de Recuerdo by Jose Luis Merlin, was played first, but apparently not all of the movements. This had a mixture of solo guitar episodes and the duo. The solos had a kind of generic quasi-jazz feel that were not quite memorable. It was then that I noticed the sameness of the sound of the guitar. It had a beautiful rich timbre but lacked a contrasting brightness that would have helped the guitar cut through the power of the flute.
The majority of the second half was taken up with a stunning unaccompanied work for flute. Gilbert spoke about the work as she assembled her three music stands full of the score of “Tenderness of Cranes” by Shirish Korde. Written to replicate the sound of the ancient Japanese shakuhachi, this performance was quite spectacular, although it overstayed its welcome just a bit. Gilbert was quite masterful evoking the sound of ancient Japan with effects that I not only had never heard, but some that seemed downright impossible. Not meaning to demean this work by any means, but it would be perfect as an accompaniment to a massage in a dark, hot room.
The best came at the very end and it seemed that a switch was turned on and everything came alive and energized. What we heard was a Sonatine by the young (b.1970) Bulgarian composer Atanas Ourkouzounov. As anyone (including me) who has attempted to play music by this composer as well as others with Balkan or Eastern European backgrounds like Dušan Bogdanović or Štěpán Rak, you find yourself immediately confronted with frightening and unfamiliar rhythms and sometimes shriek and throw down your instrument. This work and this performance was a phenomenal demonstration of polyrhythmic complexity but with the performers grooved into each other with both precision and abandon. There were yet more unique flute effects and Goni seemed to blossom with excitement and passion. The show biz motto to “save your best for last” was never more apt.