The Magic of the Plucked String

Jonathan Paget (guitar)
Stewart Smith (harpsichord)
Joshua Devlin (percussion)

Conservatorium Auditorium


reviewed by Neville Cohn 

Jonathan Paget



Many critics – or, perhaps, it might be more accurate to say that many arts editors – tend to turn their noses down at lunchtime concerts. True, there are the ever present – and very real – problems about available space on newspaper pages for such endeavours. Yet, these presentations, whether under the auspices of this or that university or church, often yield surprisingly high listening dividends. And there was a golden dividend available to those, regrettably few, who gathered at the Conservatorium Auditorium to listen to an all-Spanish program.

Prime focus of all ears was Rodrigo’s much loved Fantasia para un gentilhombre but here presented in a most unusual transcription for guitar, harpsichord and percussion. How, I wondered, would this sound? Would this be yet another unfortunate massacre of a masterpiece forced into some utterly inappropriate mould?

I listened with some apprehension but, within moments, my concerns evaporated as I listened with the utmost care. And as measure followed measure, I was converted utterly to this re-ordering of Rodrigo’s masterpiece. In fact, I cannot too highly praise both the work of those who arranged it and the musicians who breathed life into it at a performance that I shall not easily forget – and for all the best reasons.

Smith brought rare qualities of musical taste and refinement to his task. His contribution was a model of its kind. The same could be said of Paget’s performance, not least for the manner in which he made light of Rodrigo’s often excruciatingly demanding measures.

Throughout, both Paget and Smith shaped to the demands of the score like sangria to a goblet. Joshua Devlin did well, too, in the discreet part for percussion although initially perhaps a shade too tentative.

But looking around and seeing too many vacant seats, one might ask where the aficionados of the genre were, the sort who will break doors down to gain entrance to a recital by, say, John Williams, but remain indifferent to what is on their very doorstep – but then, Williams is now based abroad and so he can be thought of as ‘imported’ when visiting his homeland. Fie on these musical snobs. They were the losers in neglecting to attend this astonishingly fine performance.

Earlier, Paget did wonders in a transcription of Albeniz’s Sevilla. And Smith, who is as versatile as he is gifted, brought a fine sense of style to two early baroque organ pieces by de Santa Maria and de Arauxo.

This program had the stamp of distinction.

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn

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