Fort Worth — It’s been a great week for area classical guitar buffs. Monday night, one of the great Spanish classical guitarists of today, Manuel Barrueco, performed at SMU’s Caruth Auditorium. Thursday, two of Brazil’s greatest classical guitarists, Sergio and Odair Assad appeared at the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth in a concert scheduled to be repeated Friday night at Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas.
For this listener, one of the most fascinating elements of comparison between Barrueco and the Assad Duo is in the complete contrast of style and approach. Both Barrueco and the Assads are impeccable in their artistry, while representing two very different schools of guitar playing. Barrueco, whose only solo appearance on the Monday concert (which he shared with the Cuarteto Casals, a Spanish string quartet) was a set of three short Spanish dances by Enrique Granados: there, he combined a subtle, almost understated tone quality with a lavishly expressive rubato and captivatingly varied range of expression within parameters, producing a radiant evocation of Spanish folk life.
The Brazilian Assads, in contrast, joined to produce a constantly momentous, assertive presence influenced by the folk and popular traditions of the land of bossa nova. Both approaches are not only legitimate, but, in their own way, profound.
Before moving directly into their Brazilian roots, the Assads opened squarely in the classical tradition, with the Fantasia, Op. 34, of Spanish composer Fernando Sor, a contemporary of Beethoven whose numerous guitar compositions give that instrument a foothold in an era of symphonies and piano sonatas, and lend a Spanish accent to the classical style. The Assads here established their credentials with an insightful, stylish rendition before turning to the French baroque for Sergio Assad’s transcription of harpsichord works by Rameau; the delicate layered textures of Rameau’s keyboard music transferred convincingly and meaningfully to guitar duo. The Tonadilla for Two Guitars by Joaquin Rodrigooffered an interesting parallel to that composer’s beloved guitar concertos, with a straightforward three-movement structure enriched with broad, seductive lyricism and brilliant virtuoso figuration.
The Brazilian focus began immediately before intermission with contemporary Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti’s Polhaco and Baiao Malandro for two guitars, vibrant with a modernist but immediately appealing urbanity. The duo remained in Brazil, musically speaking, for the entire second half of the program, with a repertoire drawn from some intriguing composers who are virtually unknown in the U.S. outside of the guitar community. Americo “Canhoto” Jacomoino’s Abismo de Roses provided a particularly seductive little waltz, followed by a three-part montage of short, song-like works of Anibal “Garoto” Sardinha.
The influence of jazz was clearly evident in the Tempo Feliz of the Brazilian composer Baden Powell (who was named by a father who admired the founder of the Boy Scouts, but otherwise no connection); Brazilian composer-guitarist Paolo Bellinati’s Jongo, originally written for jazz combo but arranged by the composer for guitar duo (especially for the Assads) further demonstrated a wonderful crossover of jazz and the classical tradition, including percussive striking of the body of the guitar. Sergio Assad’s rhapsodic Tihhiyya li Ossoulina, a homage to the duo’s Arabic and Italian ancestry, provided a final display of the remarkable and unique artistry of a duo that, as they pointed out, have been playing together for fifty years. An improvisation on a Venezualan waltz by Antonio Lauro provided an encore.