BCGS Winter Concert 2019

Thursday 12th December

Unitarian Chapel, Brunswick Square

The BCGS was as always delighted to welcome a large audience of friends and family for our annual winter concert, to demonstrate our progress over the year, and to put ourselves to the test on the concert stage.

As an Ensemble we need not worry of course, having been patiently and expertly nurtured over the twelve months by Helen James, surely the most exacting-but-encouraging director we could wish for. Sadly, Helen was unable to be present this evening, as family circumstances called her away. Our very best wishes to her. Vince Smith stood in to conduct the ensemble sections of the programme.

The Ensemble opened with two of Helen’s wonderful arrangements, beginning, as a way into the programme for both players and audience, with the gentle and beautiful Duo, followed by Mário Álvares da Conceição’s upbeat waltz, Adelina.

Martin bravely went first as a soloist, playing an anonymous study and then, even more bravely, an evocative composition of his own presenting the theme and development of a broader work that we hope to hear at a regular meeting soon. Barry and Lynette followed with an intriguing piece by the relatively little-known Czech composer Milan Tesař, played with coordination and control. The style is stately and classical, and the players’ experience and skill made for a lovely rendering. Next on stage was Ciarán, with, for the second year running, an impressive composition of his own, this time a series of technically demanding and colourful variations on a well-known Irish air. Ciarán showed a sensitive use and thorough knowledge of the particular resources of the guitar.

Tony and Tim ended the first half (also for the second year in a row!) with a varied and skillfully played set of modern pieces: the melodic Canción from the duet Suite Melancólica by Venezuelan guitarist-composer Montes, which caused great admiration when it was published in the early 90s; Argentine Máximo Pujol’s lilting tango Palermo from the Suite Buenos Aires and, staying with descriptions of the neighbourhoods of great cities, the famous jazz theme Left Bank, originally a library piece, taken up by the BBC for the art programmes Vision On, Take Hart and SMart.

Cari opened the second part with another taste of South America, Mexicana by the renowned composer and teacher Peter Nuttall, played on a beautiful instrument made by our own Graham Harvey. She followed this with another very descriptive piece, the Scots-inspired Firth of Forth, and gave both pieces all the romance, and local flavor needed.

Turina’s Fandanguillo is a challenging piece by any measure, and Paul performed it next with assurance and style, negotiating well the modern harmonic approach and very melodic and unmistakably Spanish character. A varied set of pieces from Rob, Barry and Vince concluded the solos and small groups section of the programme. Boccherini’s jaunty Minuet was well known to all, and was delivered with the requisite precision; Isaac Albéniz’s two piano works Tango and Capricho Catalán are less well known even to guitarists, but the group gave an engaging performance, finishing off with a dramatic and entrancing Libertango.

The BCGS Ensemble regrouped to take up the final set of music for the evening. The demands in terms of precision and time-keeping in the Vivaldi are testament to the level of coordination that Helen has achieved with the group in order for us to take on the challenge. Brejeiro is a favourite of ours and Helen’s, and could not go un-included here. The charming Farewell to Kentraugh made a fitting end to the evening. We are cautiously optimistic that Helen would have approved of our efforts, and thank her wholeheartedly for her work with us.

As usual there were drinks and mince pies, and plenty to talk about while both were enjoyed. A great musical evening and a great year of classical guitar music. Well done and thanks to those who organized, played and listened. A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

Nick Regan, December 2019

Visiting Artists series: Luke Bartlett  

Thursday 10th October 2019

Unitarian Chapel, Brunswick Square

Luke did two great things for us tonight. Firstly, he made himself available to perform for the Society at short notice, and secondly, and more importantly, he presented a wonderful programme of music in advance of his auditions for music college over the coming period.

The programme Luke presented (below) was a substantial one by any measure. Luke has been working hard to prepare for his auditions, and the hours invested showed as he handled, with care and precision, repertoire from the lute onwards.

Dowland’s Allemande for lute and Bach’s Prelude in G both came across beautifully, and set the tone in Luke’s great care in achieving clarity in the quality of the notes, something only achievable through long practice. Sakura is a song every Japanese child knows, but Yuquijiro Yocoh’s theme and variations for guitar has been played and recorded by countless guitarists worldwide. Luke dealt commendably with the tough demands of this piece.

To take together the Tárrega pieces Luke presented, he entered fully into the composer’s nineteenth-century Romantic ethos, a difficult aspect of his work, although Capricho Arabe certainly is also a tricky piece (Tárrega considered it his most accomplished composition). Again, Luke was equal to the technical requirements, bringing out the melodies clearly through meticulous fingering.

Luke’s performance persona came across as calm, and he introduced the pieces in a clear and informative way. The guitar he was using is, splendidly, made by our own BCGS member Graham Harvey. Congratulations to Graham; all would agree it sounded excellent.

Villa-Lobos is a tall order; a contemporary and very guitaristic feel mixed with lilting Brazilian melodies, here in the Mazurka-Chôro and, in the case of the Bachian Prelude 3, with an additional baroque flavour, giving the player a lot to do. At the opposite end of the timescale was Johannes Kapsberger’s Toccata, originally for the early baroque theorbo. It works very well on the guitar, which gives a faithful and haunting presence to the modulating arpeggios.

In the contemporary phrasing and harmonies of Torroba and Ponce’s Valse, Luke’s precision prevailed, and he handled these sensitively and confidently, bringing us up to the present day with Gary Ryan’s famous, charming piece Birds Flew Over the Spire, the lyrical middle movement from the otherwise frenetic City Scenes. Luke worked hard and painted a delightful summer scene.

Our thanks and congratulations to Luke; we wish him the very best of luck in his upcoming auditions. The BCGS is with you.

Nick Regan October 2019

Stop press: since this recital, Luke has been offered a place by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama to study guitar under Helen Sanderson, Zoran Dukić and John Mills. He still has to audition for the Royal College of Music and Trinity Laban, but has this place secured. Congratulations Luke!


Allemande (My Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe)    John Dowland

Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 (BWV 1007)   J. S. Bach

Sakura (theme and variations on a Japanese folk song)  Yuquijiro Yocoh

María         Francisco Tárrega

Mazurka-Chôro        Heitor Villa-Lobos

Toccata Arpeggiata       J.H. Kapsberger

Preámbulo from Piezas características     F. Moreno Torroba

Capricho Arabe        Francisco Tárrega

Valse         Manuel Ponce

Prelude No.3        Heitor Villa-Lobos

Prelude No.4        Heitor Villa-Lobos

Adelita        Francisco Tárrega

Lágrima        Francisco Tárrega

Birds Flew Over the Spire     Gary Ryan

Visiting Artist series:

Harris Becker recital & masterclass

Thursday 6 June 2019

Unitarian Chapel, Brunswick Square

Thanks to some skilful juggling of schedules on both sides, we were delighted to be able to welcome back to the Classical Guitar Society US teacher, festival director and concert artist Harris Becker after more than 10 years, to give us a recital and hold a masterclass for our members. Harris tirelessly seeks new projects and repertoire for the guitar worldwide. He is the founder and Director of the Long Island Guitar Festival (USA).


Tonight, Harris offered us a demanding programme spanning the 1600s and 2010s, from baroque to contemporary. He began with Albéniz’s celebrated Cádiz from the Suite española, delivering its wonderful light and shade, rolling arpeggios and lovely melody expertly. This was followed by John Williams’ Madrugada, from the 2017 On the Wing CD. It is a simple melody evoking dawn beautifully and demonstrating Williams’ not inconsiderable compositional skills; its simplicity hides the need for careful phrasing and voicing. Harris delivered Williams’ intentions sensitively, as only a fellow guitarist might. He then took us back to Spain with Torroba’s complex, modern and deeply Spanish-sounding Madroños. Again, the technical demands were high, but he interpreted both this and Enrique Granados’ Spanish Dance No. 10 with assured skill. Harris’ interest in contemporary music came to the fore again in Carlo Domeniconi’s Toccata in Blue, a tribute to Gershwin’s masterpiece Rhapsody in Blue. The piece sets off in a boogie-woogie direction, but quickly heads into unfamiliar terrain in high-speed contemporary idiom – campanella, running arpeggios and jazz harmonies that all place very high demands on the player and listener. Harris rendered it with flair. The final item on the programme was a leap back through time and space to Bach and BWV 998. The lilting prelude, the masterful building of the fugue and bright, fast-flowing allegro all pose great difficulties in voicing and positional play that Harris dealt with carefully and easily. He treated us to an encore, again of piano music in Malats’ fabulous Serenata Española, and again delivering the very Iberian voices with great character.


Cádiz     Isaac Albéniz (1860–1909)

Madrugada    John Williams (b. 1941)

Madroños    F. M. Torroba (1891–1982)

Spanish Dance No. 10   Enrique Granados (1867–1916)

Toccata in Blue     Carlo Domeniconi (b. 1947)

Prelude, fugue and allegro (BWV 998) J. S. Bach (1685–1750)


In keeping with his personal mission as a teacher and promoter of the guitar, Harris held masterclasses in the second half of the evening.

Luke Bartlett takes the hotseat first. He has clearly worked on his piece, and Harris is able to offer further guidance on identifying and applying accents in the melody to give it shape and to engage the audience in the interpretation. Staccato can be used to create colour.

Matt Boyton is working on Andrew York’s Squares Suspended, and he and we were treated to a lesson in creating the illusion of suspended phrases, like bowed notes, that the guitar cannot easily render. He also insists on relaxing and moving as little as possible in positional changes.

Harris continually asks the players Do you like that?; What do you want to do there?, encouraging personal investment and looking for the music in the simplest phrase. He says we should not work unnecessarily hard; take time to plant the left hand before striking the string, and place the right-hand fingers on the string to control the stroke. Both edges of the right-hand nails can be used, to achieve different tones.

Ciaran Elster brings Dowland’s Lacrimae Pavan, and Harris advises studying the words of the text to get the feel for the phrasing of the melody, so as then to be able to separate it confidently from the accompanying voices. Also, differentiate call from response.

Vince Smith brings Stefan Rak’s Temptation of the Renaissance. The piece is spirited and fast: Harris points out that speed is facilitated by a solid pulse, driven by quieter inner voices and louder higher voices. Practise very slowly at first, one phrase at a time; rhythm is key.

Masterclasses are a privilege and an education for all present, both players and audience. We are very grateful to Harris for making this true tonight, and for his energy in giving us a recital and masterclasses on the same evening.

Visiting Artists series: Brian Whitehouse

Thursday 9 May 2019

Unitarian Chapel, Brunswick Square

Brian Whitehouse is leading light of the UK guitar scene. Former Head of Guitar at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, examiner, publisher and currently Patron of the Consortium for Guitar Research at the University of Cambridge, he is the Director of the Classical Guitar Centre in Birmingham.

Brian’s latest book is the subject of tonight’s talk: Dr Walter Leckie and Don Francisco Tárrega: the unlikely tale of an English Gentleman and a Spanish Guitarist. With an excellent set of illustrative slides, he took us through what is both an uplifting tale of friendship, and an insight into the thoughts of the man who remains the foundation of modern guitar technique, Francisco Tárrega.

Dr. Leckie retired in the 1880s from a career as a military surgeon, to devote himself to peace, travel and study of his beloved classical guitar. As a young man he had studied in London under Mme. Sidney Pratten, guitar tutor to, among others, the Royal Princesses.

A man whose larger-than-life personality matched his large bank balance, Leckie retired to the French Riviera and sought out a new teacher. He was directed to Tárrega, then resident in Barcelona, and the two became firm friends. Despite some of Tárrega’s acquaintances feeling somewhat shocked by the loud, spontaneous Englishman, Tárrega found in him what his life’s work prized: sophisticated musical culture and absolute dedication to the guitar. Their concert trips around Europe and north Africa, financed by Leckie, were an inspiration to Tárrega. For Dr. Leckie, Tárrega was the epitome of the depth and beauty of the guitar.

Brian showed us historic photos, documents, and Leckie’s leather-bound notebooks, with music written out for him by Tárrega and annotated during their lessons. It is a beautifully-produced volume; luminaries including John Williams have been highly complimentary.

The stories of Dr. Leckie and of Tárrega are fascinating each on its own, but Brian’s book highlights the rare good fortune, for the guitar we now know and love, of their paths having crossed in the time and place they did.

Sincere thanks to Brian for taking the time to come to visit us. We wish him well with sales of the book.

Nick Regan May 2019

Brian Whitehouse (2019), “Dr Walter Leckie and Don Francisco Tárrega: the unlikely tale of an English Gentleman and a Spanish Guitarist” (+ 2 CDs) is published by ASG Music Limited.

Visiting Artists series: Evangelos Nikolaidis

Thursday 11 April 2019

Unitarian Chapel, Brunswick Square

Thanks firstly to Vince Smith this evening for his talk on Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland Op. 70. Carefully researched and engagingly delivered, this was an eye-opener and an education for all present. Thanks also as ever to Helen James, our Ensemble Director, who continues to work wonders with the BCGS group. The improvement in our playing has been noted by audience and members alike.

The second part of the evening saw the opening of our Visiting Artist series for 2019. We were delighted to welcome back to the Society Evangelos Nikolaidis, graduate of the RWCMD and a performer and teacher with a busy national and international concert schedule, as well as being a leader of the South Wales Guitar Society. Evangelos presented an attractive programme of pieces in thematic groups: Renaissance; 19th century; Spanish; Modern, and Latin American.

Diferencias sobre ‘Guárdame las vacas’ is by Spanish composer and vihuelist Luis de Narváez, who was employed at the court of Phillip II in the early 1500s, and published an invaluable six volume edition of music for vihuela, Los seys libros del delphín (1538), which provided a reference for early guitar technique and repertoire. Evangelos’ performance of this set of variations (diferencias) from volume 6, was spirited and precise.

Evangelos’ playing is characterised by an emphasis on the emotive power of the music, and his rendering of the following four Romantic studies by the great player-teachers Sor and Carcassi surprised many in the audience who knew the pieces with his skillful highlighting of their beauty and sentiment, alongside his mastery of their well-known complexity. These pieces are often played as a part of students’ preparation per se, but rarely as Evangelos performed them here, as the compositional and musical gems that they are.

The energy and tight control continued into Laurindo Almeida’s Danza Gitana, with its rasgueados, tremolos and bass-string melody filled with Spanish temper and flamenco flair. The second of the Spanish pair, Tárrega’s Capricho Árabe was the composer’s most vaunted  and musically accomplished during his lifetime. Again, Evangelos, brought out the depth of colour and character, allowing appreciation of Tárrega’s compositional genius.

The two pieces in the next section were new to the audience. David Cottam’s Moonlight on Water, from his ‘Zebramusic’ collection is a smaller, but no less charming, piece, and the inclusion of Tziogkidis’ Sentimental Waltz was a well-deserved homage to its author, who is still a student; a bright future awaits him.

The Latin America selection of songs and guitar compositions from Cuba, Paraguay, Argentina, and Mexico not only served to further showcase Evangelos’ impressive command of genres and of guitar technique, but brought a great balance to the programme. It was a joy to the ear, evoking admirably the rhythms, romance and wide-open pampas of South America. We are very grateful to Evangelos Nikolaidis for a wonderful evening of music, his example of musicality and precision, and of enthusiastic and thoughtful musical company.


Diferencias sobre ‘Guárdame las vacas’ Luis de Narváez (fl. 1526-49)

Study No. 6     Fernando Sor (1778-1839)

Study No. 9     Matteo Carcassi (1792-1853)

Study No. 5    Sor

Study No. 7     Carcassi

Danza Gitana     Laurindo Almeida (1917-1995)

Capricho Árabe    Francisco Tárrega (1882-1909)

Moonlight on Water    David Cottam

Sentimental Waltz   S. Tziogkidis

El Choclo     Ángel Villoldo (1861-1919)

Bésame Mucho    Consuelo Velásquez (1916-2005)

El Sueño de la Muñequita  Agustín Barrios (1885-1944)

Milonga    Jorge Cardoso (1949- )

Quizás, Quizás, Quizás   Osvaldo Farres (1903-1985)


Members' Ensemble Concert

Thursday 13th December 2018

Unitarian Chapel, Brunswick Square

The BCGS was delighted this evening to welcome an appreciative and good-sized audience of friends and family and to treat them to our annual winter concert, showcasing the work throughout the year of the Ensemble and smaller playing groups and individual members; regaling them with music that is both serious and enjoyable, and shedding some light for their nearest and dearest on what it is that they actually do on the second Thursday of every month.

Helen James and the Ensemble opened the evening with two folk tunes in her arrangements, with rich chords, lovely light and shade and the melodies singing over the four-part accompaniments.

Charlotte, Rob and Lynette's Vivaldi and Hartog were a clever pairing, with the bluesy Hartog piece following the formal baroque variations. Both were played with coordination and style.

Next came Ciarán, with his own arrangement of the Pogues' seasonal favourite Fairy tale of New York. His adaptation allows Ciarán no easy ride as player, drawing on a wide range of techniques from tremolo to melody in thirds and in the bass strings. A piece we hope to hear again at regular meetings.

Clive Garrett bade farewell tonight to the BCGS with Mason Williams' 1968 hit Classical Gas, one of the classical guitar's very few pop hits, in an energetic rendering that Clive clearly enjoyed as much as we did. We will miss Clive's good humour and skilful playing, and wish him the very best for his future involvement with the Worcester CGS - our loss; their gain.

Tony and Tim rounded off the first half by adding even more variety, with sensitively executed and beautiful renaissance pieces by Dowland and Bach, and the cool jazz feel of Pujol's 2005 piece Palermo, which they and many of us first heard and were charmed by last year in the hands of visiting artists the Griffin-Turner Duo.

Although Francisco Tárrega never played his Recuerdos de la Alhambra in concert, he almost always included Capricho Árabe in his programmes; he considered it among his most accomplished pieces. Tonight Paul played Tárrega's original arrangement of a piece that has turned the head of many a guitarist to the classical genre over the decades.

As Tony Lewis, BCGS Chairman and MC pointed out, he has never singled out a performance for special praise at these concerts. However, on this occasion, Francesco's Chaconne was rightly identified as the stand-out moment of the night. A classical guitar scholar now working as an engineer, Francesco showed us an impressive feat of technique, memory and sensitive musicianship. He received loud, warm applause.

In counter-balance, Rob returned to the stage with Barry and Vince to play a 'light' trio from among the little-known composer von Call's oeuvre of some 150 didactic works. The performance was nuanced, and the players communicated well throughout to produce a very pleasant suite of salon-style music.

To bring the programme to its culmination, the BCGS Ensemble took the stage again. It is hard to overstate the progress that the group has made over the time the Helen has been arranging music for us and directing us. The playing is now careful and the parts tight, and the players' reading of her conducting is responsive, producing lyrical, skilful and very enjoyable music that all of us can be proud of. Helen's talent as an arranger shone again here, in the four Spanish folk tunes and Brazilian Nazareth's Brejeiro.


Equally efficient, as always, was concerts secretary David Evans in the provision of wine and mince pies afterwards, and there were plenty of smiles and good conversation until late. A great end to a great evening and a great year of classical guitar music. Well done and thanks to all, and best wishes for a happy 2019.

Nick Regan, December 2018

Winter Concert Programme

Thursday 13th December 2018 - 8.00pm

Ensemble   Folk Tune    

                   Ijwals                                           both arr. Helen James

Charlotte Barnard /  Trio Sonata in Dm      Antonio Vivaldi

Rob Blackwell /  Let’s Take the Flip Side     Cees Hartog

Lynette Taberner

Cierán Elster   Fairy Tale of  New York       arr. Cierán Elster

Clive Garrett   Classical Gas                         Mason Williams

Tony Lewis /   Come Again                           John Dowland

Tim Rigley      Arioso                                    J S Bach

                         Palermo                                 Máximo D. Pujol

Short interval

Paul Bradshaw   Capricho Árabe                  Francisco Tárrega

Francesco Reale  Chaconne in Dm               J S Bach

Rob Blackwell /  Leichtes Trio Op. 26:  

Barry Corbett /  Andante, Menuett,              Leonhard von Call

Vince Smith        Adagio,  Rondo

Ensemble    4 Spanish folk tunes:                   arr. Helen James

   Don Gato, La Tarara,         

   Valenciana, Serrana.

   Brejeiro                                                        Ernesto Nazareth

                                                                        arr. Helen James

Mince pies and wine!


Visiting Artists series: The Griffin-Turner Duo

Thursday 9 November 2017

Unitarian Chapel, Brunswick Square

What a great evening. First we had the pleasure of Amanda Johnson's short talk on the Spanish pianist-composer Enrique Granados, to whom the classical guitar repertoire is so grateful for his Spanish Dances and Goyescas, and who was to meet a tragic end in the English Channel. These 15-minute talks are among the highlights of the BCGS calendar, as they offer a space to any member to explain, share or demonstrate an aspect of the classical guitar world in which they have a particular interest. Members are constantly surprised by the quality and variety of the talks!

After Amanda's talk, we tuned up, sat up straight and settled into our Ensemble session, guided as always by our fabulous director Helen James. With the end-of-year recital looming, we need her more than ever.

The second half of the evening was devoted to our special guests, the latest in the Visiting Artist series, in which we invite national and international figures to give recitals and talks. We were delighted to welcome Frances Griffin and Leo Turner, the Griffin-Turner Duo.

Leo and Frances immediately showed their technical control and excellent communication as they started with a bright, up-tempo arrangement of Vivaldi's famous concerto. Not for them an 'easy' opening piece to settle in with! Sanzen-in, for two guitars, inspired by Andrew York's visit to the temple of that name in Kyoto, is beautifully evocative, and the duo applied the same careful coordination and great subtlety of tone to render the quiet beauty of the piece.

Astor Piazzolla's wonderful, intriguing treatment of Argentine tango is well known to guitar audiences through his 1960s/70s Estaciones Poerteñas (Seasons of Buenos Aires), and Libertango (a combination of the words in Spanish for 'freedom' and 'tango', implying the composer's freeing himself from the confines of the traditional form). Frances and Leo gave it brio, swing and emotional depth that took full advantage of the two-guitar format and the broad chords and layered voices that it provides: Piazolla scored the pieces originally for multi-instrument bands including electric guitar and conventional tango accompaniment.

The duo's own arrangements of the Beatles' music provided a new look inside familiar music. Leo and Frances commented later that one obvious but critical issue, when translating non-guitar music onto the guitar, is that the result must be, above all, a meaningful guitar piece. The choral textures in Because were reworked into a full and resourceful combination of the guitar's capabilities, delivered with a lovely subtlety. Likewise, the addition to the programme Carillon, by Herbie Flowers/Ian Gomm was tastefully arranged.

Another Argentine, Maximo Diego Pujol's, 2005 piece Palermo (Sunday in La Boca) is bright and lilting, and the instruments' individual tones gave it a real charm. The programme ended with a fiery rendering of Falla's famous Spanish Dance from La Vida Breve, with the fast-paced Iberian energy maintained with great control of technique and close communication.

It was an enjoyable and memorable, evening of music, for which we are very grateful to the Griffin-Turner Duo. Conversation and discussion with Frances and Leo continued in the Surrey Vaults before they set off again for Birmingham, where they play regularly to packed audiences in their home city's Museum and Art gallery.


 Concerto in D    Antonio Vivaldi
Allegro giusto

 Sanzen-in    Andrew York

 Verano Porteño    Astor Piazolla

 Two Beatles melodies   Lennon/McCartney arr. Griffin/Turner

 Palermo (Domingo en La Boca)   

 from the Suite Buenos Aires   Maximo Diego Pujol

 Spanish Dance

 from La Vida Breve   Manuel de Falla




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Helen with the ensemble players