The guitarist Craig Ogden has been quite a frequent visitor to the city. This year it fell to him to give the first concert of the 2017/2018 Lunchtime Series. He attracted a sell out audience and one was swiftly reminded why. He is a great performer in every sense. He makes a point of talking to his audience so that his concerts, particularly in the surroundings of the Museum Gallery, have an atmosphere peculiarly suited to the guitar, that of an intimate almost impromptu hour of music with friends.
Of course, it helps that he has a good line in wit, not exactly unknown in his fellow Aussies. I have heard on several occasions his remarks about the guitar as an instrument but each time in its variations of the moment it comes across as the player’s unrehearsed, spontaneous thoughts. He is rather like a magician who dares his audience to believe that something apparently impossible is about to be accomplished, in this case actually managing to play anything successfully on what is apparently an impossibly difficult instrument. Hence, when he conjures up the most extraordinary range of sounds from such a supposedly intractable piece of wood, the audience is very likely to find it a thing of wonder and magic.
And there were in truth many magical moments in the hour. In Bach’s first Lute Suite, there was firstly a quite wonderful buoyancy in the playing of the quicker movements. Here the various strands of the score came over with exquisite clarity and the ear was never confused. Even more to the point my ear heard any number of delightfully contrasting colours, not in itself something that is always to be found in Bach performances. Stern piety is sometimes what comes across but not here. The music was fleet footed and really danced. Yet also in the slower more solemn movements the stateliness achieved was so graceful. Perhaps such an effect was the result of something that the artist had alluded to in regard to the sound of the instrument’s bass strings. Here their resonance was memorable.
In the arrangements of two Beatles’ song that followed was revealed the song like capacities of the instrument. There were some particularly beautiful sounds in Goren Sollscher’s arrangement of Here Comes the Sun. However, perhaps unsurprisingly it was in the three Spanish Pieces, Andaluza by Granados and Torre Bermeja and Sevilla by Albeniz, that the guitar’s capacity to make you hear the unique timbre of such things as the Spanish mezzo voice was most memorably realised, not to mention its ability to convey the rhythmic vitality of the Spanish dance as well.
Perhaps, it was because it was sandwiched between these extraordinarily atmospheric pieces that Giuliani’s Grande Ouverture from the turn of the 18c and 19c seemed to this listener to have more virtuosity than substance. The programme associated him with such composers of the time as Hummel, Moschelles and Beethoven. Enough to say the piece certainly recalled the first two.
The delight of this concert was summed up by the way it ended. The performer remarked that he was mindful of the clock and had been told he must finish on the stroke of two. Therefore because he was determined to play a very special encore he said he would not go through the usual procedure of walking off and back on the stage, only in response to riotous applause for him to produce a little more music. In this instance he would nod twice to the applause whilst sitting and then play the encore. This turned out to be a delightful piece by Yvonne Bloor, a well known player and teacher of the classical guitar who lives in Leicester. It was such a graceful way in which to finish a concert and was duly rewarded with riotous applause. It was a concert which sets the bar high for the new season.
In a fortnight’s time on 19th.October The Brodsky Quartet come to the Museum in the second concert. Sadly, I shall be on holiday. Bad timing!