Dallas — On Tuesday evening the Allegro Guitar Society of Dallas sponsored a concert at the University Park United Methodist Church. This place of worship provided a simple backdrop of gray marble floors and cream-colored walls. A few flurries were the shiny gold chandeliers and a small amount of verdant figures painted round the altar’s arch. As the rather small audience quietly waited, the sun soon set turning the blues and purples of the stained glass windows black. However, hard surfaces can make for lovely acoustics for a classical guitar concert. The stage was preset with a spiderlike black music stand, chair, footstool and a remote page turner. Soon Irina Kulikova walked out, bowed to the vigorous applause, and sat down directly to play Vals N.7, which Chopin had originally written for piano. Once she began, my heart leapt as I immediately recognized the languid melody that I’d played on the piano 40 years ago as a student in Minnesota. In Kulikova’s hands the dreamy melody rang through the sanctuary—clear and sonorous.
The next piece, the Swan Princess, was dedicated to Kulikova by the composer Konstantin Vassiliev. She tells us that the swan means “beauty” in Russian. Kulikova also shares with us how her six-year-old daughter responds when she practices—if she stops playing, the young girl continues to sing or hum the melody as she knows it so well. Like the swan moving through water, Kulikova’s fingers swirl and dance around the frets and strings. Next to me, my concert-mate is inspired to sketch an elegant swan in blue ink on her program cover. Near the climax the music became frenzied and then concluded with exciting abruptness. Kulikova’s posture is to hold her face quite close to the guitar’s neck as she plays with wonderful intensity and seamless connection to the music’s emotions. As she’s previously stated in an interview, it’s easy to see that she does indeed disappear into the guitar.
Next was Claude Debussy’s most famous Clair de Lune and we once again followed Kulikova to a dreamy moonlight atmosphere as she touched this familiar work to her guitar in a most impassioned way. The last piece before intermission was a duo with cellist Feliks Volozhanin. She shares how they’ve known each other since they were eight and grew up on the same street in the same Russian town. Their longstanding connection clearly shows as they play Vassilieve’s 3 night ballads: In a Shadow of the Sunset, Magic Ship, and Queen of a Clear Night. The exquisite contrasts between the ballads ranged from mournful to discordant to resonant. While there was, of course, tension in sections, the two musicians glanced at each other and together found the moments of peace in a way that only synchronous friends and gifted artists can realize on a concert stage. Hearing and witnessing this was a most special gift to the listener.
After intermission, we heard a J.S. Bach work transcribed for guitar: Cello Suite n. 1 BWV 1007 with three movements: Prelude, Allemande and Courante. Kulikova explained how some of her technique comes from the touch of the cello which she was exposed to at an early age by her cellist mother, Vinera Kulikova. Her handling of Bach’s multiple intertwining themes was incredible. How she managed it all on the guitar with only two hands and ten fingers was baffling but oh so lovely to witness.
Following was a nice contrast, a work by the Spanish composer José María Gallardo del Rey, the Noches de San-Lorenzo hasn’t been recorded yet but soon will be. The Preludio was spooky and nearly unsettling; there was a moment of struggle between the notes that deliciously broke free to calm. The second movement, Buen Aire (pure air) had a delicately high melody which descended to a low-hanging sullen cloud. Throughout the concert, we so often we enjoyed the roller coaster effect of high tension that plummeted to sudden but exhilarating stop.
The audience chuckled when Kulikova shared that when doing Facetime with her wise, young daughter, the girl has sometimes advised to her mother about dealing with stress and nerves with the charming, “You’re a professional.” Kulikova concluded the concert with her enchantingly upbeat interpretation of the Sonatina by Frederico Moreno-Torroba. An encore was granted, a lullaby by Victor Kosloph, which he actually wrote as a love song to his wife. This was evident in Kulikova’s cascading melodic lines that oozed with romance.
Kulikova is on a 14-day tour and will play next in the Kimbell’s Piano Pavilion in Fort Worth on April 11.