Guitar Masters With an Occasional Oud

United StatesUnited States Classical Guitar in the Americas: Zaira Meneses (guitar), Carlos Barbosa-Lima (guitar), Francisco Roldan (guitar), Carlo Valte (oud), Rex Benincasa (percussion). Americas Society, New York City. 9.7.2013 (KC)

 Zaira Meneses, Guitar
Manuel Maria Ponce: Prelude, Balleto, Gigue
Leo Brouwer: Sonata (“Fandangos y Boleros,” “Sarabanda de Sriabin,” “La Toccata de Pasquini”)
Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Guitar
Alberto Dominguez Borras (arr. by Barbosa-Lima): Perfidia
Ruben Fuentes: La Bikina
Enric Madriguera (arr. by Barbosa-Lima): Adios
George Gershwin (arr. by Barbosa-Lima): Promenade
Pixinguinha (arr. by Barbosa-Lima): Cochichando
Antonio Carlos Jobim (arr. by Barbosa-Lima): One Note Samba
Francisco Roldan (guitar), Carlo Valte (oud) and Rex Benincasa (percussion)
Marcel Khalife: Dances Nos. 1, 5 and 3
Rafael Landestoy: Fantasia and Pueblerino

This evening was both the closing event of the Americas Society 2012-2013 concert series, and the opening concert of the New York Guitar Seminar at Mannes. Perhaps because of this duality, all seats were occupied and many audience members were forced to stand.

Zaira Meneses, a native of Mexico who has lived in the United States since 2001, began with Manuel Maria Ponce’s Prelude, Balleto, and Gigue, and her interpretations of her compatriot’s music showed distinct sensitivity to his harmonic and contrapuntal language. Listening to this artist, one is reminded that the spirit of the great Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) thrives on. Meneses closed the official portion of her program with the popular Sonata of Cuban Leo Brouwer, the greatest living composer for this instrument. Written in 1990 for Julian Bream, the masterful composition contains much common thematic material throughout. The performance of the closing movement was particularly clean and commanding, and offered not only a full timbral palette but a particularly enchanting ending—unfortunately seriously marred by multiple rings of an audience member’s cell phone. The guitarist closed with an encore, both singing and playing the popular Mexican song, La Llarona.

Brazilian guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima is one of the greatest orchestrators the instrument has ever known (in the tradition of Fernando Sor and Miguel Llobet) and also a virtuoso of the highest order, despite an occasional slight error on the fret board. This audience seemed enraptured by every note that came from Barbosa-Lima’s fine Prenkert guitar. Adios by Madriguera is a perfect example of this artist’s gifts: Barbosa-Lima was playing three-voice counterpoint, each voice with its own distinct timbre, and the Brazilian samba style was flowing in abundance. This musical marriage of the best of popular and classical elements, executed with the highest artistic brilliance, is what makes Barbosa-Lima one of the greatest artists the guitar has ever known.

Although Barbosa-Lima is a tough act to follow, the trio of Roldan (guitar), Valte (oud) and Benincasa (percussion) was incredibly special. Guitarists have a natural affinity for the oud, as it is the true forefather of the instrument. Hearing this ancient instrument next to a modern classical guitar was an unusual treat. It felt as if the audience were watching an ancestor from the 14th century standing side by side with someone from the 21st, and yet, the instruments blended perfectly. The dances of Marcel Khalife are of great rhythmic interest, and will undoubtedly receive great attention as the popularity of world music inevitably increases. Oud player Valte switched to percussion for the second dance, which returned the audience to the American theme of the concert. This last set of pieces featured the solid and warm-toned Colombian guitarist Francisco Roldan on compositions by Dominican Rafael Landestoy, who was in attendance.

Keith Calmes