Aspen 10: Three Guitar Virtuosi, McGegan in Baroque Splendor, and a Venerable String Quartet

Aspen Music Festival (10): Bach, Bartók, Boccherini, Brahms, Dohnányi, Fauré, Mozart, Rameau, Shatin, Telemann. 3-6.8.2015 (HS) Aspen

Chamber music, August 3
Steven Osborne and Julian Martin (piano), Bing Wang (violin), Steven Wyrczynski and Masao Kawasaki (viola), Darrett Adkins (cello)

Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor
Shatin: Glyph
Brahms: Viola Sonata in F minor

American String Quartet recital, August 4
Peter Winograd, Laurie Carney (violins), Daniel Avshalomov (viola), Wolfram Koessel (cello), Anton Nel (piano)

Mozart: String Quartet in D minor, K. 421
Bartók: String Quartet No. 2
Dohnányi: Piano Quintet No. 1 in C minor

Baroque Evening, August 5
Narek Hakhnazaryan (cello), Nicholas McGegan (conductor)
Telemann: Suite in B-flat major “Les nations ancients et modernes”
Boccherini: Cello concerto in B-flat major
J.S. Bach: Violin concerto in G minor
Rameau: Suite from Les Indes galantes

 Guitar Passions,” August 6
Sharon Isbin, Stanley Jordan, Romero Lubambo (guitars)

De Falla, Granados, Agustín Barrios, Rodrigo, others


On Thursday night in Harris Hall, Sharon Isbin brought along a couple of friends for a guitar-fest, in one of the most extraordinary crossover concerts I can recall at the Aspen Music Festival.

Guitarists Stanley Jordan and Romero Lubambo have worked with Isbin for years. They recorded Guitar Passions with her in 2011 and toured with this program last fall. They represent very different styles: Isbin the classicist who can cross over a bit, Lubambo combining jazz with Brazilian dance music, and Jordan defying convention with his own unique virtuoso jazz technique. Though Jordan occasionally strums or picks like most electric guitarists, mostly he draws sound by tapping fingers of both hands on the neck of the instrument. The technique achieves extra transparency and facility, and he can play chords, plus melodic and bass lines all at once. (And, for one jaw-dropping solo spot, he duetted with himself on the piano and guitar at the same time.)

Lubambo was especially fine in his own bossa nova, “Under the Jazz Influence,” and with Jordan in an up-tempo pure jazz version of “All the Things You Are.” In various combinations, Lubambo and Jordan added their own improvisations to material played straight by Isbin, including pieces by de Falla, Granados and the Paraguayan maestro Agustín Barrios (Mangoré).

The topper was Laurindo Almeida’s three-guitar version of the familiar Adagio from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Isbin lavished characterful expression on the guitar part and Lubambo covered the orchestra role with some extra jazz gestures, before Jordan opened up a wonderful improvisation that segued seamlessly into a delicate finish.

Not the usual fare for an Aspen Music Festival, and the best moments in this evening were unforgettable.

Wednesday at Harris Hall, a wind machine and field drum added a little extra to Nicholas McGegan’s annual evening exploring Baroque music. Exotic touches in Rameau’s suite from Les Indes galantes put the capper on another smile-worthy evening with the ever-ebullient harpsichordist and conductor.

The whole suite was as colorful and diverse as Baroque music gets, and McGegan lit some kind of fire under the mostly student orchestra, which performed with high musicianship. The wind machine cranked up to enhance a storm sequence in “Orage et air pour Borée” (at the center of the Rameau suite), and the field drum added a tom-tom effect for “Danse du Grand Calumet de la Paix,” which Rameau wrote after witnessing an actual Native American dance.

Adele Anthony romped brilliantly through J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto in G minor. The central Largo movement was especially enchanting, its familiar strains smartly maintaining their momentum. Cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, despite some overreaching ornamentation, delivered a vibrant account of Boccherini’s full-speed-ahead Cello Concerto in B-flat major. The concert opened with Telemann’s pleasantly diverting Suite, “Les nations anciennes et modernes,” inflected with musical gestures real or imagined from Turkey, Moscow and ancient Portugal.

The American String Quartet’s annual appearance on the Harris Hall stage spanned a range of styles, from elegant if melancholy Mozart to the overstuffed sofa of Dohnányi’s Piano Quintet. The highlight, however, was a razor-sharp, intense account of Bartók’s String Quartet No. 2.

The Bartók requires tremendous concentration from both players and listeners, and rewards both with tangled and remarkably colorful passages morphing seamlessly in endless forward propulsion. The contact between the quartet and audience was palpable; they played against a bed of utter silence. After the searching first movement and nervous but vital second, the finale seemed to float through space as it nudged this way and that, finishing with a sense of resignation. Throughout, the playing was taut and unfailingly focused.

The Mozart wove its own intricate magic, especially in the exquisitely framed slow movement and the menuetto that stopped just this side of stomping. The Dohnányi stormed from the outset, voicing rich harmonies more dense than Brahms might have written, pushing rhythms relentlessly. The balance with pianist Anton Nel was excellent, which allowed the individual lines to emerge clearly, at least from time to time.

Such density posed a similar challenge to the faculty artist quartet on Monday’s chamber music program when Steven Osborne’s piano overpowered Bing Wang’s violin, Steven Wyrczynski’s viola and Darrett Adkins’ cello in Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 2. Much better was the crystalline, deft playing in Brahms Viola Sonata in F minor by violist Masao Kawasaki and pianist Julian Martin.

Harvey Steiman

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