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FringeReview UK 2018

Jon Rattenbury and Brian Ashworth Guitar Duo

Jon Rattenbury and Brian Ashworth

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: Chapel Royal, North Road, Brighton


Low Down

Well-known guitar duo Jon Rattenbury and Brian Ashworth play Mozart to Carulli via Granados, Mills Sommerfeldt and Praetorius with Vivaldi as encore. Some of this repertoire – the Vivaldi and Mills, will be performed at All Saints on 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 thuogh vital to guitarists.


So with Rattenbury and Ashworth we get Mozart, Sor, Giulini, 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.


Mozart’s Vienna Sonatina No. 1 in C with its four movements was an attractive opener, not especially profound but revealingly-textured and rather more than that in the nattily etched Minuet & Trio, and especially the Adagio third movement. They sign off with a soufflé of good taste in the finale. Ideal Rattenbury and Ashworth territory. Clean, fleet, yet ample enough not to sound obsessively period-obsessed.


Granados’ Arabesque and Pastoral, 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. These are more delicately textured than some of the Spanish Dances, often featured by this duo and others.


The Norwegian Øistein Sommerfeldt (1919-94) is totally unknown to me and I know a few Norwegians! These two pieces from 1979 Lyriske stykker, (with generic ‘By the Brook’ titles) 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. 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.


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.


Rattenbury and Ashworth excel at this heart-easing lyricism with a melodic gracefulness and fullness of tone that’s previse 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, just the first movement, as a sign-off. There wasn’t an ideal time to settle into this the clocks chiming two already but it was a fizzing foretaste. It’s going to be performed at All Saints on August 16th with the Mills piece and another longer work of his. More please.