Fort Worth — With the possible exception of the organ, the guitar, while modest in volume, can take on a wider range of tone qualities and timbres than any other virtuoso solo instrument. Thursday night in a concert at the Kimbell Art Museum, Scottish-born guitarist David Russell, one of the leading guitar virtuosos of our time, explored a broad repertoire while demonstrating an impressive breadth of expressive and coloristic possibilities.
Russell opened in the heart of the traditional guitar repertoire, with 19th-century Spanish composer Jose Broca’s Fantasia; here, harmonically straightforward material is skillfully crafted for the special resonance of the guitar, in turn beautifully realized by Russell with precise attention to detail and voicing. From there, Russell turned to the high German baroque and his own transcription for guitar of two of the partitas for harpsichord of Johann Kuhnau. Aficionados of J.S. Bach might well view these miniature sets of dances as forerunners of Bach’s monumental Partitas and keyboard Suites; Russell applied Kuhnau’s elegant but sturdy counterpoint with fluid delicacy to the guitar, landing nicely on the sometimes surprising harmonic progressions of the final Gigue of the second partita.
Heading back, repertoire-wise, to Spain, Russell commemorated the sesquicentennial of Enrique Granados with a transcription of that composer’s engaging suite of Valses poeticas (originally for piano), imbuing these slight, Schumannesque miniatures with a searching lyricism, and, once again, strikingly complex and effective voicing.
More transcriptions from the keyboard repertoire followed after intermission with a pair of Sonatas in C of Domenico Scarlatti (K. 308 and 309); Scarlatti frequently evoked the sounds of his adopted homeland of Spain in his harpsichord music, creating works that move quite comfortably to the guitar in the hands of a master such as Russell.
For this listener, the high point of the evening arrived with American composer Matthew Dunne’s Landmarks, a work composed specially for Russell and premiered last month in San Antonio. Dunne gives us the best of several worlds here, with gentle influences from soft rock and jazz contained in a concise but fully-developed three-movement sonata structure—albeit with evocative titles for each movement. The opening “Camelliola” (named for the Club Camille where Dunn once played) moves with gentle momentum to an urgent development section, while the middle movement, “Cancion,” delivers a smooth, poetic longing. The final movement, “Reel Variations,” rises out of a theme suggesting traditional Scottish music to arrive at a brilliantly virtuosic toccata.
Russell closed where he had begun, with the 19th-century Spanish guitar repertoire, this time represented by composer Francisco Tárrega. Three gentle Mazurkas of Tárrega, suggestive of Chopin with a Spanish accent, preceded a final showpiece for Russell’s range and virtuosity, Tárrega’s Gran Jota. For encore, Russell provided the feather-light arpeggio study Una limonsa por el amor de diós of early 20th-century Paraguayan guitar virtuoso Augustín Barrios.