Guitar Has Never Been So Good
The Oberlin Guitar Ensemble, although relatively little-known, gave a concert on Tuesday night that testified to the remarkable amount of musical talent present in the Oberlin student body.
The concert opened with M. Saumell’s Sechs Contradanzas, performed by senior Malcolm Karlan and sophomore Derek Tuttle. The sound of their guitars was soft, speaking with fascinating harmonic changes that characterized the pieces clearly traced in their interpretation. They had a careful musical dialogue going throughout their performance. In some spots, Karlan’s guitar sounded darker and smoother than Tuttle’s. With the last slow contradanza and its calm, storytelling characteristics, the duo proved that it felt deeply every single note.
E. Granados’s Orientale: Danza Espagnola No. 2 followed, performed by junior Chris Riggs and senior Brendan Evans.
“We didn’t have any kind of programmatic idea behind our interpretation, but I should mention that we played Brendan’s arrangement of the Orientale,” said Riggs.
With or without program, the piece was utterly enchanting from its first silent notes to the gorgeous rubati before the end. At times, it sounded like a music box; at other times, the sound almost disappeared, only to suddenly build up again. It was close to the ideal midnight serenade — beautiful and gracious, played with much passion. The balance between the instruments was perfect.
“Brendan and I had never played together before this piece, so I was very pleased that it came together like it did,” said Riggs. “It seemed to happen naturally, but that might be just because Brendan is such a sensitive player.”
Afterward, sophomore Christopher Mallett performed N. Koshkin’s Merlin’s Dream. The piece felt calm but anticipatory at the same time. The character of the music changed throughout, reflecting some of Mallett’s interpretations.
“The tremolo effect on my E string in the beginning suggests Merlin’s sleep. The melody on the single string gives a great hypnotic effect,” said Mallett. “The loud block chords shows Merlin’s efforts to escape his prison-cave.”
He also links the strumming of the chords in the climax of the piece with Merlin’s attempt to break the rock that keeps him captive.
“At the Coda, I do a single-string fingernail glissando all the way up to the bridge of my guitar and fade it away gently, which gives the impression of Merlin finally escaping and flying away into the distance,” he said.
Mallett also played with a slide, which is traditionally used for blues guitar, to represent the wizard’s slipping back into a deep sleep — its mesmerizing glissando effect was amazing.
“The slide is hard to control because I have to quickly put it on my little finger, and I have to control it to hit only three strings,” said Mallett.
Despite these difficulties, Mallett played with an exceptional ease and a fine natural flow.
Sophomore Michael Beharie, guitar, and senior Michael Sansoni, voice, performed W. Walton’s Anon in Love. It was a quirky, funny and captivating song cycle with humorous lyrics, contemporary harmonies and an interesting dialogue between the voice and the guitar. Beharie’s involvement in the music making was incredible — he cared deeply for his part and he followed his partner constantly from the beginning to the end.
Unfortunately, he did not receive the same professional attitude from Sansoni, whose voice was so loud at times that it glued me to my seat in Kulas. Although Sansoni tried hard to cover Beharie, he did so with only partial success. When the lovely, prominent color of the guitar rose over the voice, it softly shone and erased the bitter taste in my mouth that came with Sansoni’s performance.
A. Diabelli’s Sonata in A major was the only piece from the Classical era performed that night. It was gracious, warm and tender — almost fragile — with a noble character. The balance between sophomores Hudson Lanier, guitar, and Matthew Brower, piano, was extraordinary. The guitar solos were beautifully performed, with much care and naturalness.
Brendan Evans performed K. Mertz’s Elegy, which began with a soft, mourning, cantabile melody. Evans’ rubati were well placed, and his dynamic contrasts followed the different characters that appeared in his interpretation. The virtuosic passages were flawless, and he seemed to have no difficulties with them. Each repetition of the main melody was more complex than the previous one, but it did not seem that Evans had any trouble at all with it. It was a delightfully mastered piece.
The concert ended with two pieces from R. Gnatalli’s Suite Retratos, performed by Michelle Younger and Mallett. Once again, there was expert teamwork, virtuosity in both guitar parts and a lovely duet. All alterations from the first tempo — the accelerandi, the rubati, the sudden fermatas — were impeccably performed.
The first piece, Ernesto Nazareth (Valse), started with a romantic flavor; at times it sounded almost sentimental, even tragic. A happier, livelier section came afterwards. The second piece, Anacleto de Medeiros (Schottisch), had a prominent dotted rhythm and was as virtuosic as the first one. Its character was as serious as it was melodramatic.
The concert was an enormous Tuesday night delight. The event deserved more
audience than it actually received, but lucky for those who missed it, there is
another concert this Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 8 p.m. in Kulas Hall. It will feature
works by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Piazzolla and other talented guitar composers.