The unamplified six-string guitar is not always the first musical instrument that comes to mind when thinking of elegant or intimate chamber-type music. Too bad, because the solo guitar, in the right hands, can produce music of exquisite beauty. And each summer about this time, Dr. Elliott Frank of East Carolina University directs a guitar workshop for students young and old to learn more about how to play their instrument and for accomplished performers and teachers to show their craft.
Such was the occasion for Mary Akerman, Bob Teixeira and Jason Vieaux to take the stage during the evening concert portion of the workshop. The Akerman/Teixeira Duo, from Atlanta and Charlotte, respectively, served up some fine Baroque, Romantic, operatic and Latin selections with style and skill. Exchanging lead melody lines and accompaniments, the duo wove a gorgeous musical tapestry with their instruments.
The highlight of their program was John Williams' arrangement of the theme and variations from Johannes Brahms' String Sextet, Op. 18. Akerman and Teixeira infused a measured stateliness into the opening theme and then traded leads through several variations, from single-note statements to dense clusters of notes. Akerman and Teixeira handled both arpeggios and harmonics well and varied their touch on the strings to provide both muscle and delicacy as needed. Akerman's light fingering at the upper end of the scale in the next-to-last variation was especially fine.
Their program opened with two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (E-minor, K.9, and A, K.113), and "simple elegance" best describes the performers' approach to the music. Akerman had the lead melody on the first, Teixeira, the lead on the second. This is Scarlatti without all the busy-ness, and these works sounded airier than many of his keyboard works.
The duo gave an inspired reading of Gioacchino Rossini's overture to The Barber of Seville (in an 1821 arrangement); unlike some classic-pop arrangements of this chestnut that one sometimes hears, which maintain a frenetic pace, this version stayed close to the music without breaking any land speed records from start to finish. In fact, under the skilled hands of Akerman and Teixeira, this version came close to a Baroque feeling and was a nice follow-up to the Scarlatti sonatas. Melody lines separated by an octave blended nicely.
Two 20th century pieces by Luis Bonfa, "Manha de Carnaval" and "Samba de Orpheo" from Black Orpheus, concluded the duo's portion of the program. Teixeira arranged the pieces for two guitars and provided improvised jazzy melody lines in both selections, in addition to providing a near-orchestration accompaniment to Akerman's melody line in the first selection. The use of muted strings in the third statement of the main theme of "Manha de Carnaval" was a nice touch, as was Teixeira's percussive thumping of the guitar body to accompany "Samba de Orpheo."
As an encore, the duo played a lovely arrangement of "The Fool on the Hill," and Akerman's arpeggios were especially nice.
This was only half the concert. Jason Vieaux, a young man who heads the guitar program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, brought his considerable skills to the second half of the evening.
His featured work was J.S. Bach's Lute Suite No. 3 in A-minor, S.995, an adaptation of the fifth cello suite. Bach does not waste any time getting into the interesting stuff: after a few opening flourishes comes a wonderful fugue, and Vieaux handled it with considerable skill and dexterity. Other highlights: the beautiful mellow tone of the treble strings in the slow sarabande and the final gigue, which gallops toward the conclusion.
Perhaps the most beautiful playing of the evening came in the barcarola from Agustin Barrios' "Julia Florida," with the lovely harmonics that ends some phrases. Though perhaps not as well known as the lively vals that followed, this is a gorgeous — and gorgeously simple — piece that has all the hallmarks of a love song, but Vieaux played it in a straightforward manner, without excessive vibrato that might have been distracting.
Vieaux opened with the familiar "Sevilla" from Isaac Albeniz's Suite Espanola, Op. 47, showing a full dynamic range from loud bass strings to delicate treble strings, and for encores, he played the well known Capricho Arabe by Francisco Tarrega, which includes interesting key shifts from minor to major and back to minor, and Pat Metheny's "Letter From Home."
July 11, 2009, Greenville, NC: One of Vieaux's students in Cleveland, Jeremy Collins, opened the concert series July 11 with a well-played recital of works from the classical repertoire and from his own compositions. Collins, in his early 20s, was the solo competition winner in the 2008 guitar workshop at ECU.
His two pieces were inspired by classical composers: "Fantasy in the Style of Debussy" and "Snehurka" (Czech for "snowy"), which he said he composed two years ago after listening to Mahler. The former featured a nice eight-note figure in the opening melody line followed by variations in harmonics. Some of the chord changes did indeed recall Debussy. The latter had unusual timing and built in intensity and ended with a nice progression of harmonics.
Collins also played Joaquin Rodrigo's "Fandango" from Tres Piezas Espanolas, which starts with slightly dissonant chords and requires quite nimble fingering up and down the neck, and Bach's Fugue, S.1001, which causes one to wonder how one hand with five fingers playing only six strings can produce much the same complicated and richly textured sound as two hands with ten fingers playing an entire keyboard.