Dallas — Meng Su was born in China’s Shandong province in 1988. She has won many prestigious competitions, such as the 48th Tokyo International Guitar Competition, and has a busy international concert schedule as a soloist and chamber music musician.
If not for her nimble fingers flying up and down the instrument, you might think that the guitarist Meng Su was in a state of deep mediation for her performance Tuesday on the Allegro Guitar Society series. Perhaps that is exactly the case. As she delivered a flawless performance only her head moved, almost unperceptively, in a subtle nod to get a closer look to her fingers. There is something captivating about such placid perfection. That is the magic that Meng Su creates when she plays.
Before I continue, let me strongly advise readers to get a ticket to her second appearance in the current Allegro Guitar Society’s series, seen at Caruth Auditorium on the Southern Methodist University campus on Tuesday. The concert repeats at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27 in the Renzo Piano Pavilion Auditorium in Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum on the Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society series. You can reserve tickets here.
Because of the spotty nature of the guitar repertoire, masters of the instrument frequently depend on transcriptions of works written for other instruments. Such is the case with Meng Su’s opening work, J. S. Bach’s Sonata in A-minor, BWV 1003. It was originally written for solo violin. (The program didn’t mention who did this particular transcription.)
In general, Bach’s music has a universality that makes it effective on any instrument that can play it. The guitar lacks the lyrical line of the violin, but Meng Su managed to connect the phrases in such a manner that you might think that it was originally written for the guitar.
Bach’s music is both cerebral and emotional at the same time. Modern day performers disagree about how much rubato and romantic overlay to add: some think none while others say do whatever you want. Meng Su’s solution was to keep a relatively strict interpretation but to give the music lots of room to breath within that format. Bach’s music unreeled with remarkable smoothness and expressiveness. The result was captivating.
The second work on her program was the Sonata Omaggio a Boccherini by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in 1934. Unlike the Bach, this was originally written for guitar and was the result of an effort by guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia to recruit 20th century composers to write for the instrument.
Meng Su’s mastery of technique was on full display in this neoclassical masterpiece. Although it is written as an homage to the composer Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805), Castelnuovo-Tedesco didn’t include any specific quotations from Boccherini’s music, but his style served as the main inspiration.
This piece gave Meng Su lots of room to display her musicianship as well as her technique. The first movement’s sprightly nature gave her a chance to loosen up a bit while the lyric nature of the second movement let her display her ability to deliver a long singing line over a soft-flowing accompaniment. She brought some real charm to the third movement, keeping the nature of the Minuet at the forefront and virtuosity to the last movement brought the work to an impressive close.
After intermission, her program moved on to four widely different composers, all of whom worked in the 20th century. Two are still composing. Although they represent some of the divergent musical styles that the 20th century produced, Meng Su easily moved between them to give them their characteristic panache.
Cinco Piezas, by the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, is not in his famous tango style yet fully expressive of 20th century harmonies. It gave Meng Su the opportunity to use some non-musical percussive effects such as slapping the strings on the backbeat. Her performance of the composer’s complex jazz-influenced harmonic structure was as transparent as her reading of Bach. An interesting sideline is that while Piazzolla’s music is frequently transcribed for the guitar, his Cinco Piezas is one of only two works specifically written for the instrument.
The sparse program was devoid of program notes, so the next selection, Rounds by John Williams, was a mystery. This is because there are two composers named John Williams. One is the composer of award-winning film scores and the other is a well-known guitar virtuoso. Which one wrote this piece? As it turns out, Rounds is the first work for guitar written by the film composer. It is a short piece and Meng Su played it as though it were an improvisation.
Five Bagatelles by William Walton, commissioned by the guitar virtuoso Julian Bream, closed the program. This work followed a different pattern in that it was written for guitar and then transcribed for other instruments, such as the piano, and even orchestrated by the composer and re-titled Varii Capricci. Meng Su played it without any influence on what it would become. This was pure guitar music that took advantage of all of her considerable technical mastery. One reservation is that she ended it quite abruptly. It just suddenly stopped and she stood and bowed.
I saved the most interesting selection for last. On the second half, there was a fascinating work by an unfamiliar composer, Sérgio Assad (b. 1952) that Meng Su premiered. He is a Brazilian composer and guitar virtuoso and his Sun Wukong’s Toccata ably demonstrates both of his musical gifts. Sun Wukong was the fictional Monkey King with superpowers in the ancient Chinese novel Journey to the West. Program notes would have been a help following this piece and Meng Su’s attempt to tell us the story was confusing.
The audience gave her a well-deserved standing ovation.
President/Artistic Director Christopher McGuire brings the best guitarists on today’s concert stage to the Metroplex for similar pairs of performances, one in Dallas and one in Fort Worth. The next artist to appear is the world-renowned and Grammy laureate Jason Vieaux (October 30 and November 1). But Meng Su is something special and her performance on Tuesday evening will remain a vibrant memory.