FringeReview UK 2018
Patrick Avery performs a single-piece eight-part guitar work, Eduardo Sainz de la Maza’s 1972 Suite Platero y yo at St Nicholas Church.
St Nicholas is always an attractive venue for guitarists, its acoustics resonant but not overwhelming, where a ping can carry to the back of the church.
Patrick Avery’s had an unusual career. Coming late in his teens to music, he fit approach guitar as a rock and then jazz guitarist, and still enjoys jazz. But he discovered his true vocation in classical music, and after training here and in the States with a roster of prestigious mentors, he’s embarked for some years; though stopped off at the Royal College of Music for his MA and currently a PhD in creative performance and practice.
This the is Avery’s first recital in eighteen months. Avery’s returned to a favourite summer-laden and beautifully relaxed minor, late work of a composer – Eduardo Sainz de la Maza (1903-82) from a musical dynasty. De la Maza’s slightly more famous brother, Regino (1896-1981), gave the first performance of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez in 1940.
De la Maza’s Suite Platero y yo dates from 1972, at the start of the composer’s last decade. It’s remarkable for tis simplicity and indeed apparent lack of variety. After composing the work, de la Maza appended explanations, rather like Debussy putting the titles of each of his piano preludes at the end of each each score, as a reflection, not instruction.
Avery feels it’s a good idea to give these. In fact they’re inspired by a Nobel-Prize-winning poet, Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1957), second only to Antonio Machado in his generation. Jiménez is an inward-looking almost post-symbolist poet, pretty recondite, exquisite but not exactly direct. Not for us then footprints in the snow, or Puck, or general Levine, Eccentric, let alone Pickwick with Debussy’s mischief pouncing on you. Avery makes all this accessible, refracted through the sot limpid of medium.
Such narrative guidance works well – there’s a tradition of verbalising brief explanations that goes back to the seventeenth century in Spain and indeed France (Couperin’s 1725 L’Apothéose de Lully for instance). And given the potential monotony of tonal colour it frees Avery to concentrate on slight registral shifts and tone-colour knowing the audience will follow his least inflection.
Avery clearly revels in this music. It’s deceptively simple – as one audience member put it, a guitarist’s Fréderico Mompou (1893-1987), that limpid, apparently simple-sounding piano composer who’s now a feature in any Spanish piano recital.
The eight movements show apart from the last, a consistently relaxed, limpid tempo, not quite adagio sometimes but Avery guides us to tone colour. They’re evocative but not always self-explanatory. ‘Platero’ kicks off as an introduction, the ‘El Loco’ grouds us in place, as much as it can do. Things vary with ‘La Aztoea’ which lends exotic imaginings from South America, and ‘Darbon’, which seems a portrayal of a doctor (if I’ve got this right: Jiménez was a lifelong invalid cared for devotedly by his wife).
‘Paseo’ enjoys something of a riff, while ‘La Tortuga’ is a black and gold tortoise released from its leaved to emerge glittering: Avery well conveys the halt and lurch of the post-hibernating animal. ‘La Muerte’ is a sudden lurch to death; it’s contemplative, the heart of the slow attenuated music that’s the bass-note of this suite Finally ‘ Platero En su Terra’ celebrates an emergence into sunshine. It’s splintering, and suddenly speedy too, a lurch again into an upbeat tempo we’ve not heard and the more forceful for that.
This was exquisitely performed, with daring. It takes nerve and artistry to perform so consistently slowly till the end, and real gifts to invest that tempo with such kaleidoscopic variety ss de la Maza affords: which isn’t much, though consistently imagined and imprinted with a quietly compelling compositional voice.
Avery certainly makes it worth the Midsummer Eve trip, and a fabulous acoustic for guitars, indeed much else. Avery’s off-beat, exploratory approach to the guitar and to performance and improvisations is going to be a fascinating career to watch.