Dallas — Classical guitarists suffer from a lack of exposure that keeps the names of the superstars out of the public’s adoration list of musicians. Asked to name a classical guitarist, even devoted concertgoers struggle to come up with a name, a fate not shared by pianists and violinists. Enter the Allegro Guitar Society/Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society to fill this void by presenting recitals presented by universally admired guitarists in both Dallas and Fort Worth venues. It is not unusual for classical music buffs to admit that they don’t know about them but that is easily remedied by attending such a concert.
A perfect example is the recent pair of recitals played by the Grammy-winning guitarist, Jason Vieaux. He was one of the founders of the guitar department at the highly respected Curtis Institute of Music. Since 1997 he has served on the faculty of his alma mater, The Cleveland Institute of Music, and has headed the guitar department since 2001. He has a collection of other honors as well as prizes in international competitions. He first came to notice in 1992 when he won first prize in the prestigious Guitar Foundation of America International Guitar Competition, the event’s youngest winner ever. Currently, he is a member of their advisory board.
When Vieaux took the stage for the recital, the first impression is that even though he is his mid-40s and is a large man, he still has a boyish demeanor with his shock of blond hair; and an informality when giving personal comments about what he is playing. However, all that vanishes the minute he sits down with his guitar to play. From that moment on, he is all business and laser-like concentration.
The program covered a wide range of composers, from Bach to Duke Ellington. Since the instrument has a shockingly small repertoire, much of a guitar recital depends on arrangements, usually made by virtuosi for their own use in concertizing. Vieaux ‘s program contained more than the usual amount of music specifically written for the guitar.
He opened with the Sonata in A-major, K. 208 by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). It was originally written for harpsichord and was arranged by the Cuban guitarist and composer, Leo Brower. Vieaux played it with a simplicity that belies its many difficulties. He also brought out the composer’s leanings toward the impending classical era.
Vieaux followed this, by way of contrast, with a work by a composer firmly planted in the Baroque era who had no leanings to what was to come. This was the Violin Sonata No. 1 in G-minor, BWV 1001 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) in an arrangement by Vieaux himself. This multi-movement work was originally written for solo violin and comes from a collection of three sonatas and partitas. Vieaux gave the serious opening of the work a feeling of improvisation, giving it plenty of room and letting the blazingly fast last movement dance.
I mention these two pieces in particular because they presented a fascinating look at the Baroque era. The Bach sounded erudite and formally strict when heard on the same program with the looser Scarlatti.
Another work that started out with the influence of the harpsichord. Mauro Giuliani’s (1781-1829) Variations on a Theme of Handel, Op. 107. The theme comes from the finale of his Fifth Harpsichord Suite, which has a nickname, given years later, of “The Harmonious Blacksmith.” Handel used the theme in that work for a set of variation. Giuliani’s take is completely different, of course, but the usefulness of the theme for such a purpose shines out. This is another example of how Vieaux was sensitive to the change of style from Handel’s Baroque era theme to Giuliani’s Classical-era treatment.
The Spanish heritage of the guitar was represented by two works by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909). First, he played his own “Leyenda” from Suite Española, Op. 47, originally for piano, followed by “Cuba” (from the same suite). These selections allowed Vieaux to demonstrate his mastery of the Flamenco style.
The second half brought a complete change in both his selections and his approach to the instrument. His physical demeanor, which was stiff, eschewing any body movement, loosened up as he moved into contemporary jazz influenced compositions. Most selections were Vieaux’s own arrangements.
He played “A Felicidade” by Antônio Carlos Jobím (1927-1994) (arr. Roland Dyens), “In Her Family”/“Antonia” by Pat Metheny (b. 1954) (arr. Vieaux), “In a Sentimental Mood” by Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974) (arr. Vieaux). His encore was “What a Wonderful World,” the 1976 hit by Louis Armstrong.