at the Turner Sims Concert Hall, Sunday 18th July 2021 7:30pm
So long we have been denied by circumstances the opportunity to continue our series of concerts. It was, therefore, an utter joy to once again be able to gather safely at the Turner Sims Concert Hall to hear a live performance. The fact that we were welcoming two of the most renowned classical guitarists on the world stage at once was nothing short of dizzying to the mind.
Left: Gary and a nice bit of pine - publicity photo from 2013
Regarding previous performances for us, Gary has the distinction of an appearance, although that was an astonishing 8 years ago in 2013 and at The Point, Eastleigh. The present reviewer is happy to report his attendance at this notable event which coincided with the award to Gary of a Fellowship of the Royal College of Music; this was the first for a guitarist since John Williams in 1983 so of exceptional significance. A subsequent appearance at the Turner Sims was in a trio partnership called “6 hands” with John Williams and the jazz guitarist John Etheridge in 2015.
Craig, whilst not having played for SCGS before (unless I can be proved wrong!) has played at many small local venues over the years which proves his dedication to spreading access to top class classical guitar performances far and wide. In the tradition of Bream he has also had many works written specially for him, also playing many chamber and orchestral works with world class ensembles and orchestras. Craig also has a close association with Radio 3 and Classic FM, the latter for whom he produced, as far as I am aware, his only original guitar composition, appropriately named Australia.
Whilst both Craig and Gary are well known for their solo performances, to this point in time the fact that they have previously formed a duo has not been so well known. In fact, they first formed this partnership in 2006 at the first Guitar France International Summer School*. Gary was director of this for 8 years until 2013 and Craig was an integral part of this as both teacher and performer, so for them to form a duo was evidently a natural development from this.
This, therefore, was the route by which we came to be treated to such a remarkable concert. It is a fact that there are many guitar duos in the world today, but I challenge anybody to name any that constitute two individuals already world famous as soloists. The only comparable duo that I can confidently name was the one formed by Julian Bream and John Williams.
These comparisons do not end there; as previously mentioned, Gary (who is also an excellent pianist) followed Williams into Fellowship of the RCM, and Bream who was also a pianist (and cellist!). Whilst Bream is known for his many arrangements, Gary has gone significantly further with many ground-breaking original compositions as well as arrangements to his name. Indeed, rumour has it that there may yet be unpublished Bream compositions!
To come to the concert itself, the potential comparisons I have now drawn were about to be brought to life. The first 2 items were duos, the first was an arrangement of the well-known Concerto in D, RV 93 by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). Apparently, Gary partly improvises his part in performance but nobody could have been conscious of this in the way both meshed, creating a satisfying and purer rendition when compared to orchestral versions.
The second item was the Overture to the “Barber of Seville” by Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868). Personally, I have never heard the music of this composer ever played on any combination of guitars or in solo form, with the latter barely imaginable, so having seen it on the programme I was awaiting this with considerable eagerness; I was not at all disappointed. In this remarkable arrangement by A.H.Varlet, both Craig and Gary simply danced through this otherwise spectacular piece for orchestra. I cannot imagine any other duo playing this piece with such passion, verve and delicacy- I can only say this duo is Bream and Williams reborn and I hereby launch an appeal that they should make all they can of this beautiful relationship and should certainly make recordings for now and posterity, to follow the greatest of heritages.
Aside from waxing lyrical (in a perhaps Schumannesque fashion!) I believe the structure of the concert, which was without interval, was perhaps inspired by the restrictions still pertaining regarding social distancing. Thus it was that after the first 2 duo items, Gary retired from the stage for Craig to perform his solo selection, followed by them swapping places before finishing with more duos; this meant that each of them had a break despite the lack of actual interval; a clever maneuver!
It was now Craig’s moment in the spotlight. Craig is a particularly personable character and always likes to interact with an audience on various topics. The primary one on this occasion was, of course, the fact that we the audience were at long last able to be present at a live performance; the feeling of relief and joy of just being together again was tangible.
Regarding his programme, Craig explained that he proposed to change it slightly from that published, omitting one by Quique Sinesi (b.1960) and substituting it with the Choros No.1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959). This piece is standard repertoire but is the only Choros for solo guitar (the others taking many and varied instrumental/vocal forms). This piece is in the genre of Brazilian popular music of the 19th-early 20th centuries and Craig took us jaunting down the streets of Rio de Janeiro with his performance.
Napoléon Coste (1805–1883) and his guitars
Next came a piece quite different in character; Craig had already explained that he had considered what Gary was to play and wished to offer a complete contrast, a desire he was certainly achieving. He continued with Fantasie Dramatique Le Depart, Op.31 by the 19thcentury French guitarist/composer Napoleon Coste (1805-83). This piece was the most extended of Craig’s presentation and, as the title suggests, illustrates a dramatic departure in a technically intricate fashion which needs plenty of skill from the performer. Indeed, Coste is not so often programmed so Craigs performance was a refreshing change.
Craig’s final solo was “Walk Dance” by the Serbian guitarist Miroslav Tadic (b.1959). This piece has a distinctive Balkan phrasing structure which makes it a particular challenge to perform but, of course, Craig is always the master of any challenge and his choice of pieces had certainly spiced up proceedings.
Miroslav Tadic (left)
At this point, Craig departed the arena to be replaced by Gary whose solo programme was to include J.S. Bach (1685-1750) in his own transcription and his own arrangements of 3 contrasting folk songs.
Gary began with his transcription of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 BWV 1007. The earliest transcriptions of Bach for guitar were made by both the Paraguayan Agustin Barrios (1885-1944) and the Spanish Andres Segovia (1893-1987) but there is always room for reinterpretation and Gary’s is an excellent one that will stand any comparison to other versions and win. The complete Suite is quite an extensive work of 7 movements and Gary’s performance held the attention of the audience throughout; it seems that Bach designed his works to go just as well whichever instrument is chosen to play them, but the guitar will always trump them all and in Gary’s version, even more so.
Gary’s arrangements of folk songs that he now presented are actually “brand new” and will only recently have been posted on his YouTube Channel and website (PDF versions available for purchase). Firstly, the Spanish El Testament d’Amelia has been given a particularly atmospheric treatment; Secondly, the Welsh The Ash Grove whilst starting in the traditional way, seems to “emigrate” somewhere along the line, to South America- a very surprising and amusing twist! Thirdly, the Congolese Banaha takes you straight to darkest Africa! These were all most imaginative, entertaining and enjoyable.
At the conclusion of Gary’s solos, Craig once more joined him in the auditorium for their final set of duo’s, this time standard transcriptions of 2 pieces by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) Danza del Corregidor (Dance of the Magistrate) and Danza del Molinaro (The Miller’s Dance). These are spectacular showpieces in any event but in this case proved to be an outstanding finale to an eternally memorable concert.
After the loud appreciation of the audience there was, of course, an encore which proved to be quite the “party piece”. This was Xaranga do Vovo (loosely- the old folks car!) by the Brazilian guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Celso Machado (b.1953). Interestingly, the preparation for this piece involved the sellotaping to the floor between them of a hooter/car horn! During performance both Gary and Craig took turns to stamp on it, consequently contributing hooting noises to the music. This was a great way to finish a highly professional and unique concert, with everyone laughing and smiling as they left!