FringeReview UK 2018
Well-known guitar duo Jon Rattenbury and Brian Ashworth play Mozart to Carulli via Granados, Mills Sommerfeldt and Praetorius with Vivaldi as encore. August 16th
Jon Rattenbury and Brian Ashworth are one of the very best-known guitar duos on the south coast and enjoy a particular way with the classical guitar – not simply the Spanish 19th and 20th century but the late 18th, which is less well-known though vital to guitarists. And they’re commissioning new works as we’ll see.
So with Rattenbury and Ashworth we get Mozart to Carulli stretching into the 1840s before the Spanish golden age with its Iberian sonorities. Well, again, if you think of the 16th and 17th centuries lute and other repertoire: via a satisfying 21st century detour. Ideal Rattenbury and Ashworth territory. Clean, fleet, yet ample enough not to sound obsessively period-obsessed.
Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841) is a standard go-to, one of many Italian composers who led the way to a guitar revival which Spain only gradually superseded. Carulli’s Duo No. I in C, Op 48 is one of his great standards for the repertoire, one of the first ever for this combo. If you think of that line of composers like Hummel, Field, Spohr and Weber who came a bit later with their post-classical ease, then Carulli, born in Beethoven’s (and Reicha’s) year is revolutionary on a small canvas. But he’s fluent in a genre that keeps much more than gallantry and tunefulness in this period at bay.
Granados’ Spanish Dances No. 11 and No. 4 replaced the occasionally more delicately textured Arabesque and Pastoral. These came up fresh as they do in whatever combination: inevitably the guitar’s Hispanic roots lend these piano pieces some of their strummed roots, entirely beguiling. No. 11 is full of halts, momentary hush and haunted counter-melodies; sophisticated and plangent, shot through with the terraced sonics of regret cascading gently. No. 4 is more simply heart-easing with a wondrous melody arching over a whole afternoon in one lyric fall.
The Norwegian Øistein Sommerfeldt (1919-94) is totally unknown to me and I know a few Norwegians! These three pieces from 1979 Lyriske stykker, (with generic ‘By the Brook’ and two titles dedicated to young women) are utterly bewitching too. They’re not at all high-modernist, but delicate post-post-Grieg melodies; not much Norwegian repertoire for the guitar till the 20th century.
Barry Mills is one of the most acclaimed and prolific composers living in the south-east, with an international reputation. ‘Where the Sea meets the Shore’ from the early 1990s (it was recorded 1993-94 on Claudio CC4325-2) is a tenebrous study of a sea darkly glistered where the sea meets it. One guitar suggests the lower surge whist the other glitters a span above it. This shifts though with a range of quietly modernist techniques with hands fluttering over the strings and bole, against a more assertively thrummed stalking theme It’s picked out then shivered over the accompanying line till the two seem to cross over in what seems a seven-note motif gradually strengthening as it rises through the texture, then fades.
His recent ‘Falling Leaves’ written especially for the duo is brief and precisely evocative. Rapped edge-of-soundboard jars us into a sonically woody world, yet soon settles into a falling figure, melancholic and memorable, which proceeds to a more radiant centre, falling back into its descending figure before closing. Full of the quietism particular to Mills it provided a still centre to this recital. This duo are wholly of its mind, and you can see why Mills chose them. It needs two outings per recital lasting barely three minutes, if that.
Then we’re even further back to Three Renaissance Dances, from Michael Praetorius’ 1612 collection Terpsichore. They’re like a beautiful sign-off, not far from the lute, strut and strum of the original line-ups.
Rattenbury and Ashworth excel at this heart-easing lyricism with a melodic gracefulness and fullness of tone that’s precise yet never pingy or drawing attention to itself as a kind of virtuoso high-wire mega-guitar as sometimes happens.
Finally we got Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto in D, here all three movements not just the first, as previously. It’s a heady and familiar first movement too with its echo and refrain strongly accented to make a two-mandolin concerto compressed and memorable. The short second movement’s attractive too as a recessed song textured very lightly. The finale’s a zingy sign-off, almost as memorable as the first movement: sure-footed and here, bounced back and forth.
Almost a sign-off. Mozart’s Vienna Sonatina No. 1 in C with the first of its four movements made a revealingly-textured encore. We’re lucky to have them.