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Brighton Fringe 2024

St Nicholas Richard Bowen Guitar Recital

Richard Bowen

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: St Nicholas Church, Dyke Road, Brighton

Festival: ,

Low Down

Richard Bowen gives a guitar recital of Sor, Guiliani, Villa-Lobos, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Lauro. A concertina’d history of the modern guitar. Recommended for languorous afternoons such as the burst of May outside.


The popular Richard Bowen returns to give a  guitar at St Nicholas Church, Dyke Road, Brighton.

Bowen’s known for his concert work in the south east, and has worked for the BBC and deputised in West End shows. This time his recital was of Fernando Sor, Mauro Guiliani, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Lauro. A concertina’d history of the modern guitar.


Fernando Sor (1778-1839) Variations on a Theme of Mozart Op 9

The Spanish composer Sor’s the first great composer of the modern guitar, though he was known for songs and a ballet in his lifetime. This theme from Mozart’s The Magic Flute is a solemn one on banishing dark magic, lasting around six minutes. It might have been picked up as a tune rather than at an opera, and Sor gradually brings its solemnity to a bright classical riff of variations, pushing the guitar to new modes of expressions and keys. Bowen has a soft feathery way with the guitar, and that suits the early 19th century guitar too


Mauro Guiliani (1781-1829) Grand Overture Op 61

Sor’s near-contemporary Guiliani from Italy is the other great classical-romantic guitar composer, born just after and dying a decade earlier.

He was also cellist, singer and a virtuoso. His was a more romantic voice, and one of extraordinary nuance. Writing over 150 opus numbers, Guiliani’s Grand Overture Op 61 falls clearly nearly midway.

It’s ambitious, in its eight minutes spanning a solemn introduction, and then a late-classical, almost Rossini-like brightness and a series of melodies like variations, it a defend structure and as if this were an orchestral overture. There’s moments of repose though before a final flourish.


Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)

The greatest Brazilian composer who hardly needs introduction, the only composer who had no formal training but began as a cellist.

The middle three of his Five Preludes are zingy, plangent and melodically riveting: and classics of the guitar repertoire. Influenced by French composers like Debussy and Ravel, Bach in Villa-Lobos’s nine Bachas Brasilieras forms a counterpoint to all his extraordinary, one might say lush output.

He was writing an 18th string quartet when he died, wrote 12 symphonies 11 Choros which vary from a two-instrument work (flute-led) for a few minutes to an hour-long piano concerto, and that’s before you consider his five late piano concertos. He’s a great composer whose vast output is remarkably inspires throughout if sometimes lacking in form (hence his instinctual attraction to Bach, which helped).


Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927-94), Luiz Bonfa (1922-2001) and Antonio Lauro (1917-86)

The final three composers span less time than Villa-Lobos, save the erudite introductions Bowen gives them, and luckily his own programme note are copious too.


The first of these composers (also Brazilian) wrote the famous Girl From Ipnema but also Solidao, more sober and more reflective. It’s attractive and memorable in under two minutes, with a sweet almost wafted pop-song feel, ending on a note of uncertainty.


Brazlian Luiz Bonfa’s Sambalamento shows how he was so prodigious his music master wouldn’t charge him: he’s a thorough guitar composer who’s taken to cool and a kind of swing to riffle through a nagging four-note cantus firmus which is truly memorable, somehow distantly related to My Funny Valentine and even Suzanne Vega’s signature ‘I am looking at a window’.


Venezuelan Antonio Lauro was both politically active and often in prison and someone who thought little of his own performing talents: luckily like Bonfa videos on Youtube contradict him.

His Vals Venezolano No. 3 which is rightly famous, also draw on Venezuelan folk melodies – Lauro as much influenced by Bartok in this, and his lilting attractive piece lasting less than three minutes is quite classical, not pop-inflected like the two previous works – Lauro’s slightly older – but with the tang of lament and folk song somehow slanted across the dance-floor: it’s classically constructed in waltz-time and ternary, vanishing in an elegant uplift to close.


This is an elegant, in fact gentle traversal through guitar history – Bowen’s guitar is incidentally a 2020 Cedar made by Richard Lowe. Bowen eschews virtuosity for communing with a light touch and a refusal to over-project.

Occasionally one loses the part-writing with such soft internal dynamics and one might wish for an occasional burst of bravura: Bowen isn’t that sort of guitarist though.  His tone’s ideally suited to St Nicholas, where it can blossom in a heady space but not be lost.

Recommended for languorous afternoons such as the burst of May outside.