Berta Rojas © 2009

Berta Rojas © 2009

Sándor Papp in concert

6th November 2010  Red Maids’ Performing Arts Centre

The connections that the BCGS enjoys internationally brought illumination to the Concert Series again this month, with Musical Director Zoltan Farkas diligent work enabling a local performance by Hungarian maestro Sándor Papp.

Guy Fawkes’ weekend was in many ways an appropriate one for Sándor Papp’s concert visit to the UK. There may have been a distant sound of festivity over Bristol, but the musical fireworks Papp delivered in the hall eclipsed them all entirely in an evening of virtuoso guitar playing, delightful programming, and refreshingly demanding listening. The programme was bookended with older, traditional repertoire, but built in the main of fine twentieth century work, much of it by composers unfamiliar to the Bristol audience.

Papp chose to open with Bach’s Prelude in D, originally for five-string ‘cello and transcribed by Papp for six. The transcription, and Papp’s playing of it, give the dances more appeal and swing than some of the more puritan renderings that audiences might be used to. He adds to this a drive and fluency in interpretation that soon became a feature of the performance.

It was very apt that it was Manuel Ponce, composer of ‘new’ guitar repertoire, who should lead the way forward in time. The change to Ponce’s Sonatina Meridional was a (cleverly planned) gust of fresh air that went on to carry the audience into and through the colourful and descriptive world of twentieth century guitar composition. The journey was surprising and inspiring.

While the Ponce, and the subsequent Barrios, Walton and Cardoso, were known to many, other modern composers in the programme were much less so. The introduction was a happy one. As the recital went on my own admiration for Papp and my enjoyment of his playing increased by the minute. The music was ‘difficult’ for the listener at times, but enjoyably so: my own growing realisation that so much repertoire is being created by living guitarist-composers was uplifting - and that the material is of such high quality. It is music that, as Papp said of Walton’s Bagatelles, is very hard, but very lovely.

Australian-born Charlton, the Frenchman Kleynans, the Italian Iannarelli, Argentina’s Ariel Ramirez and the performer’s Hungarian compatriot Barna Kovats were a delight to the ear: Kleynans’ dramatic description of a condemned prisoner’s last day was clever, tense and shocking by turns; the rainforest birdsong of Charlton’s programme piece A Short Walk in a Rainforest an enchanting description, and Innarelli’s jazz/flamenco influences in Three ‘Miles’ Sketches intriguingly blended. And always delivered with composure, enormous energy - and that fantastic right hand technique. The command of tremolo, rasgueado, fast false harmonics, and complex scalar work was stunning; a justifiably hot topic of conversation at the interval. Musically, too, the challenges of embracing styles from the formality of Bach to the saudade of the Barrios; from Ramirez’ zamba to Kovats’ modernism, were considerable. Again, Papp handled them comfortably: occasional unclear notes and stylistic nuances became minor issues.

When the performance ended with Sor’s Variations on a Theme by Mozart, the rousing applause and the encore were richly deserved. Sándor Papp gave the Bristol audience not only a tremendous show of virtuosity, but an education in contemporary classical guitar, and a splendid evening of music.

John Mills Recital - 6th March 2010

Following the memorable recital by Paraguayan guitarist Berta Rojas, the Bristol Classical Guitar Society and the Spanish Guitar Centre presented the English guitarist, John Mills, in concert.

   Mills and Julian Bream have been the dominant English guitarists for many decades and, with Bream’s retirement, and Mills still at the height of his powers, this promised to be a fascinating opportunity to compare eminent players from two continents: Rojas, with her repertoire steeped in the music of Barrios and Latin America, and Mills, perhaps wrongly entitling his programme Baroque to Bossa Nova, more associated with traditional European repertoire. Mills was greeted by a full house and opened the programme with six pieces from Tansman’s  Suite in Modo Polonico - and what a delight they were! Written for Segovia, the pieces are based on traditional Polish music styles and dances: superbly played by John Mills, bursting with energy and of broad dynamic range, these pieces deserve a regular place in the guitar repertoire.   Alba is Haug’s most popular composition for guitar, and provided a fascinating musical contrast to the Tansman suite, this lyrical piece showing John Mills’ ability to convey the most subtle expressive nuances in his playing. The remainder of the first half was devoted to music by Spanish composers which might have featured in any of Mills’ recent and popular concert programmes, celebrating music made famous by Segovia. Moreno Torroba was, arguably, the most lyrical Spanish composer for the guitar. His Suite Castellana, inspired by Spanish songs and dances, was commissioned by Segovia. Similarly evocative was Turina’s Fantasia Sevillana, which Mills described as a musical picture postcard of the city of Seville, its architecture, its gardens, its character and its people, inspiring some of Mills’ most expressive playing.

He completed the first half of the concert with two memorable transcriptions for guitar of piano music by Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados.

The programme continued with Mills’ performance of J.S. Bach’s first suite for unaccompanied ‘cello. This was the highlight of the evening for me. From the magnificent opening prelude, through a series of five beautifully controlled dances and the bass line sonority which the guitar can provide, Mills brought elegance and grandeur to the performance. There followed three beautiful, delicate and traditional old Irish melodies, which provided a wonderfully effective contrast to the Bach. Very good programme planning!

 The concert ended with a group of exhilaratingly rhythmic South American pieces by Savio, Reis and Morel (from Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina): the haunting Norteña by Gómez Crespo (Argentina), Canción de Cuna by Brouwer (Cuba) and the transcribed harp piece, Llegada, by Félix Pérez Cardoso (Paraguay). All of which proved, conclusively, that Mills does not limit himself to traditional, European repertoire!

Having been responsible for presenting recitals under the auspices of the Spanish Guitar Centre since the 1970’s, with an endless stream of international virtuosi trooping through our doors, it has been a continuing source of embarrassment that their number did not include John Mills! Finally the wait is over, and what a wonderful evening it was. I am sure that John will not be unhappy to hear that his was the first ‘sell out’ guitar recital since we presented Manuel Barrueco in 1982!  

Chris Gilbert
March 2010

Concert Reviews (pre-2011)