Q: What’s Better Than a Guitar? A: Six of Them

United StatesUnited States  Guitar Duo Extravaganza: Newman & Oltman (Guitar Duo), Joanne Castellani & Michael Andriaccio (Duo Guitarists), Carlos Barbosa-Lima and Larry Del Casale (Duo Guitarists). Mannes Concert Hall, Mannes College of Music. 10.7.2013 (KC)

Dusan Bogdanovic: No Feathers on This Frog
J.K. Mertz: Vespergang, Mazurka, Barcarole, Tarantella
Manuel M. Ponce: Scherzino Mayam, Scherzino Mexicano, Scherzino
Newman & Oltman Guitar Duo (Laura Oltman and Michael Newman)
Anima del Sur (Soul of the South)
Adrien Politi: Tango Duo (Mate Amargo, La Petisa) (NY Premiere)
Marcelo Coronel: Milongarrugada, Yerbita Companera (NY Premiere)
Alfonso Montes: Milonga (Homage to Piazzolla)
Co Pfister: Variations on an Argentinian Folk Tune
Joanne Castellani & Michael Andriaccio, Duo Guitarists
Antonio Carlos Jobim: Chovendo na Roseira, Eu nao existo sem voce, A Felicidade
George Gershwin: Prelude No. 3
Leo Brouwer: Micropiezas 4, 2, 3
Zequinha de Abreu: Tico Tico
Carlos Barbosa-Lima and Larry Del Casale, guitarists
Joao Pernambuco: Sons de Carriloes
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Veleiro (from Floresta do Amazonas)
Stepan Rak: Rumba
All Duos Combined

The Newman & Oltman Guitar Duo, hosts of Guitar Duo Extravaganza, opened the concert with a diverse menu—clearly from a seasoned ensemble performing on their home turf—starting with No Feathers on This Frog by contemporary composer and guitarist Dusan Bogdanovic. Influenced by the folk music of the former Yugoslavia, No Feathers features intricate rhythmic work (such as 5/8 time signature), ornaments and string bending, expertly executed by Laura Oltman.

Many consider nineteenth-century composer J.K. Mertz “the Schubert of the guitar.” Vespergang, Mazurka, Barcarole, Tarantella were written for guitar and terz guitar, with the latter approximated by Michael Newman with a capo on his third fret. Newman’s skills with flowing melodies were amply on display—and it is also worth noting that Newman’s comedic gifts onstage are always amply on display.

The duo closed with three expertly played scherzinos by the enchanting Mexican composer Manuel Ponce, which they dedicated to the festival’s many Mexican participants. Guitarists are fortunate, indeed, that Ponce was so attentive to the instrument.

Joanne Castellani and Michael Andriaccio played an extensive set of newly composed tangos and milongas (all from their latest recording, Anima del Sur), showing how they keep warm during those frigid winters in Buffalo, New York. Using a wonderfully warm sound throughout their set—and with many interesting new contributions to the repertoire—the duo performed with a solidity that only confirmed their decades as a professional ensemble. They closed with Andriaccio’s own arrangement of the professed “grand-daddy of all tangos,” La Cumparsita by Gerardo Matos Rodriguez, played with great expertise.

Carlos Barbosa-Lima and Larry Del Casale differed somewhat from the previous groups. Primarily known as a soloist and arranger, Barbarosa-Lima does perform with a backing band on many occasions, but here virtuoso guitarist Del Casale fills that role, and does so with panache and verve. The two-guitar format really lets Barbosa-Lima stretch out as an orchestrator. Rounding out their program were four of Leo Brouwer’s Micropiezas, written when the composer was a teenager, in a very mature and swinging reading.

To conclude the evening all three duos combined forces—quite a sight to see all onstage simultaneously. They played two trio arrangements (each part doubled): the great chestnut of the guitar repertoire, Sons de Carriloes (Sounds of Bells) and yet another gorgeous melodic masterpice from the immortal Heitor Villa-Lobos, Veliero (from Floresta do Amazonas). Both pieces were arranged for the occasion by Barbosa-Lima, with the latter featuring an extremely rare improvised cadenza. (I mention this since Barbosa-Lima usually goes to great pains to note that he is not an improviser.) The sextet closed with light delicacies from the incredible Czech composer and guitarist Stepan Rak and the popular Brazilian (now Canadian) Celse Machado.

Frederic Chopin once famously said that the only thing finer than the sound of the guitar was the sound of two. He would certainly have enjoyed this evening featuring three of the finest guitar duos of the concert stage.

Keith Calmes