SUNDAY 9.DECEMBER 2018 3.00pm Heywood Civic Centre
It was something quite different from usual that the Rochdale Music Society had on offer for the audience gathered in Heywood Civic Centre for the second of its concerts in its 2018 - 19 series in the afternoon of Sunday, 9 December: internationally acclaimed guitarists, Antonina Ovchinnikova from Russia, Maria Benischek from Austria, Ayako Kaisho from Japan and, from Hungary, Réka Mihalovics-Zottmann. When they play together they call themselves “Gitarrissima”, for which I offer the pedestrian translation, “Lots of Guitars being playing together, sounding as only they can their very best”.
There are usually five in the ensemble, but their regular fifth member had been taken to hospital with a serious illness, from which everyone present expressed the hope that she would fully recover very soon. Meanwhile, it was hoped that the necessary adjustments to the scoring would not materially affect the performances. Which it didn’t.
Their programme included movements from some well-known ballet and opera scores by Tchaikovsky and Gershwin along with music by African and Japanese composers and a surprise bouquet of seasonal numbers.
To begin with, there were four movements from Bizet’s Ballet Suite, Carmen, which amply established the artistic right to treat orchestral music to arrangements for guitar ensemble! Not only because of the Spanish connexion, but, more importantly, their capacity for presenting particular versions of music of any genre. When music that is very familiar in its original orchestral form is played in an arrangement for a smaller ensemble or a solo instrument with keyboard accompaniment it may sound either like an ‘obvious arrangement’ or ‘as if it were written that way originally’. In both cases the listener may find it satisfying or otherwise. Gitarrissima performed music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet suites, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker which, though obviously an arrangement and sounding very different from the original, made for a quite satisfying listening experience. ( … though some of the audience may have had a little difficulty in hearing the topmost notes. The middle and lower registers of acoustic guitars resonate more fully than the highest in a largish auditorium using no electronic amplification.)
Music from Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess, with its jazz and blues basis, lends itself more readily than Bizet or Tchaikovsky, to being arranged to sound like music for a guitar quartet. It gave the players scope to demonstrate the wide-ranging technical possibilities for timbre, texture and depth of sound offered by the guitar. As did the African piece, Bantu, by Andrew York, the Hungarian Fox Dance by Leó Weiner and the Thracian dance, Rachenitsa by Petko Stainov. All these sounded as though a guitar quartet was the natural medium of musical expression, which, of course, speaks volumes for the accomplishment of these players.
The arranger of most of the items in the programme is a former member of the group, Krisztina Groß Dobó, should be mentioned for her expertise in ‘translating’ the music so well into ‘guitar’. Particular congratulations for her work on the other items in the programme. Two works by Shostakovich, Tahiti Trot (Tea for Two) and Waltz No. 2 from his First Jazz Suite, which went down a treat. So did Aaron Copland’s Hoe down from the ballet, Rodeo.
To begin the second half of the concert Gitarrissima threw in a delightful selection of seasonal goodies not noted in the programme. Led by Rudolph (the red nosed reindeer) they invited us to have a merry little Christmas while listening to jingle bells ringing, and dreaming of the snow falling as we write Christmas cards wishing everyone Feliz Navidad. It was a feel good gesture that was much appreciated by the audience, not least for the the players’ great interpretive and technical skills that this potpourri demanded!