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Paganini Also Played Guitar

Frankly Music presented little-known sonata along with Piazzolla’s ‘History of Tango’

Nov. 29, 2016
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Frankly Music continued last week with a concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Violinist Frank Almond was joined by one of the area’s most notable musicians: guitarist René Izquierdo.

Nicólo Paganini was one of the great virtuosos of the 19th century and is most known for flashy works for violin, but he also played guitar and owned several in his lifetime. His Sonata Concertata for Violin and Guitar shows a more intimate side of the composer. Though light in nature, the piece shows astute understanding of both instruments—especially of them in combination. It was fun to hear Almond and Izquierdo so well matched as artists, each with cleanly elegant playing.

Almond and Izquierdo also were heard together in three movements of Astor Piazzolla’s History of Tango, in which the composer traced his interpretation of the tango from 1930 until 1986, the year of composition. Piazzolla’s Tango Nuevo style brings out Almond’s playing at its most romantic and sensual, but with a bit of an edge; Izquierdo played with an insistent and captivating sense of rhythm. In Concert d’aujourd’hui, Piazzolla pushes the limits, with adventurous harmony and angular melodies.

Izquierdo’s playing is nimble, stylish, fluent and innately expressive. He performed his own nifty transcription of Claude Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1 (originally for piano). Like any good new version of familiar music, it made the ear hear it afresh, discovering new details. He also played a lovely Afro Cuban lullaby arranged by Leo Brouwer. 

Almond and Izquierdo were joined by Margo Schwartz (violin), Nicole Sutterfield (viola) and Peter Thomas (cello) in the Quintet for Guitar and Strings by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968), who fled Italy in 1939 and settled in Hollywood. The rarely heard quintet, composed in 1950, has sounds that are glamorous and very attractive. It’s not a main dish, but a complex and memorable dessert that gives nothing but pleasure. At times it is almost like a miniature guitar concerto. The players told me how awkward the string writing was. That may be, but it was not apparent in this persuasive performance. The fourth movement was an exciting, bustling happy ending.

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