Canadian premiere features classical guitar

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March 20, 2013

Dr. Alexander Dunn, classical guitar
Faculty Concert Series, University of Victoria
Philip T. Young Recital Hall
March 15, 2013

Reviewed by Konstantin R. Bozhinov

Despite the professional rendition of four contemporary works in Canadian premiere, I did not leave humming any of the tunes I had heard. All four compositions displayed impressive effects, and I literally mean sound effects, but I still cannot recall a single melody. Much contemporary music tends to be quite unmelodic in nature. But one of the works, written for Alexander Dunn by local composer Liova Bueno, stood out because of its beautiful harmonies and passionate rhythms. Although the whole program featured classical guitar, no work was for the solo instrument. The different instrumentation varied between a guitar quarter, percussion, bass clarinet, mezzo-soprano voice and double bass. The guitar was always given a different function; sometimes accompaniment, sometimes soloist, and sometimes background colour instrument.

George Crumb’s The Ghosts of Alhambra was performed by baritone Steven Price, the wonderful Jay Schreiber on percussion and Alex Dunn on classical guitar. This piece demanded almost extreme awareness and sensitivity among the players, since Price had to drastically shift between almost a whisper, to a loud shout which filled the entire hall. The guitar here served the function of an equal soloist and not accompanist, while, as much as that is possible, the percussion played a supportive role. About a third of the stage was taken up by percussion instruments and, despite the extensive use of those, the balance was tastefully perfect. Everybody seemed aware that the guitar is the quietest instrument there.

Peter Maxwell Davies’s Dark Angels, performed by mezzo-soprano Susan Young and Alex Dunn, featured both parts as equally vocal and lyric. The guitar was not bound to its usual submissive accompanying role. The musicians took turns leading, alternating between brief solo guitar moments, as the suite unfolded. Overall, the music had a much more melodic quality, compared to the previous composition. The mezzo-soprano was much more expressive than the previously heard baritone, not because of the nature of the music, but because of what she did with it. The different musical gestures were much more balanced and transitions between different parts were made seamlessly. Because of this, a rather long composition was presented as a coherent whole.

Liova Bueno’s Poema Mistico bears the perfect title; just like a lyric poem, Bueno’s piece flowed from one character to another. At times, the listener was lead to believe that a certain pattern of rhythm and harmony had been established, but almost always that quickly faded.  Between these alternating episodes, more active and transitional parts took place, just like a play narrated by an actor. My initial comparison was to the structure of 17th century opera seria–passive arias provided emotional reflection on the action that was narrated in the connecting recitatives. In this way, the different episodes implied a grand structure.

At times I was reminded of the colourful harmonies of the king of tango, Astor Piazzola. Guitar, percussion, clarinets and double bass delivered varied tonal colours, but balanced writing prevented the dominance of any individual instrument. Overall, Liova Bueno’s composition stood out from all others on the program with its unique character. Definitely a local composer to keep an eye out for.


Konstantin R. Bozhinov is a PhD student in historical musicology at UVic, as well as a professional performer on the lute, the orbo and baroque guitar

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