United States Various, Jason Vieaux: Eloquent & Eclectic: Jason Vieaux (guitar). Chamber Music Northwest, Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, premiered on 15.5.2021 and available to stream through 22.5.2021 on cmnw.org. (RP)
John Dowland – ‘My Lady Hunsdon’s Almain’
J. S. Bach – Violin Sonata No.1 in G minor BWV1001 (arr. Jason Vieaux)
Scarlatti – Piano Sonata in A Major K.208 (arr. Leo Brouwer)
Leo Brouwer – El Decameron Negro
Pat Metheny – Four Paths of Light (2021), Movement 2
Jason Vieaux – ‘Home’
Agustín Barrios – Vals in G Major Op.8 No.4
Duke Ellington – ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ (arr. Jason Vieaux)
The sounds of acoustic and electric guitars are practically synonymous with the last half century, ever since rock and roll became the dominant music style in the late 1950s. In many ways, the classical or Spanish guitar remains ‘a wonderful instrument which is understood by few’, as Franz Schubert described it 200 years ago. In the hands of a master such as Jason Vieaux, however, its sounds are among the most beautiful, varied and enticing imaginable.
Jason Vieaux: Eloquent & Eclectic was the final concert of Chamber Music Northwest’s 2020-21 virtual season. It was filmed in the empty Mechanics Hall in Worchester, a nineteenth-century wonder that somehow managed to survive. The day will soon come when performers wearing masks alone on a stage will be a memory, preserved for posterity in photos and film. With artists such as Vieaux, however, masks are not a hindrance, but serve to focus attention on his remarkably expressive eyes and fingers.
The repertoire for classical guitar is eloquent by its very nature, even at its most passionate and fiery. It is eclectic by default, as it is on the periphery of the mainstream concert repertoire. Many of the works regularly performed are arrangements of pieces for other instruments, as was the case here. Vieaux also chose to focus mainly on composers from the Americas, ranging from virtuosos of the guitar to jazz greats, pushing the envelope just a bit further from the familiar.
At the heart of the recital were Bach’s Violin Sonata No.1 in G minor, which Vieaux himself arranged for guitar, and Leo Brouwer’s El Decameron Negro. The Bach was pure and clean. Vieaux gave each voice in the Fuga its own color and personality; the Siciliano which followed was elegant and soothing, the first of several such moments that defined the recital.
Composed in 1982, El Decameron Negro was the first solo guitar piece that Brouwer wrote in his ‘national Hyper-Romantic’ style. Based on African legends, its three ballads relate the story of a warrior who wishes to be a musician and for that is banished from his tribe. He returns to his people and leads its soldiers into victory over their enemy, thereafter living peacefully in the mountains with his princess. Vieaux captured the whirling colors and dramatic energy of the warrior, but he was most touching in Brouwer’s more tender and romantic music. There was the sensation of sunlight and rainbows in the final of the three ballads when the warrior and the princess were united.
Pat Metheny composed Four Paths of Light for Vieaux in 2021. The second movement, which the guitarist performed here, is reflective music. It was the same with ‘Home’, which Vieaux composed in 2020 during the early months of the pandemic. With time on his hands, he wrote the work after commiserating with a friend and colleague over the dearth of guitar tremolo pieces with idiomatic left-hand movement.
Vieaux shelved such sentiments for virtuosity and high spirits in the Vals in G major by the self-styled ‘Paganini of the guitar from the jungles of Paraguay’. Agustín Barrios’ composition style was anchored in the harmonic language of the nineteenth century, but it has lost none of its appeal.
In his own arrangement of ‘In a sentimental mood’, Vieaux was bluesy, but as classy and cool as the great Duke Ellington, who composed this jazz classic in 1935. It brought the recital to a quiet and introspective close, which is where Vieaux seemed most content to linger throughout it.
CMNW’s summer festival will return live in July 2021, with all concerts also available for streaming. Vieaux will be back for the premiere of a new work for saxophone and guitar, Sweet and Doleful Timbres by Pierre Jalbert, composed expressly for Branford Marsalis and him. If all goes according to plan, the performers won’t be wearing masks, and there will be people in the audience. Vieaux’s eloquence and virtuosity on the guitar, however, will undoubtedly be the same.
To view Jason Vieaux’s recital for CMNW, click here.