An exquisite evening of guitar music and voice

Craig Ogden and Claire Bradshaw, Alnwick Music Society, Alnwick Playhouse, April 3.

AN exquisite evening of solo classical guitar music and pieces for voice and guitar organised by Alnwick Music Society was enjoyed by a sizeable and enthusiastic audience at Alnwick Playhouse on April 3.

This was the fourth concert in this season’s programme and featured the Australian-born guitarist Craig Ogden, who is widely regarded as one of the finest classical guitarists of his generation and his opera star wife mezzo soprano Claire Bradshaw.

This first half of the programme was devoted to the solo classical guitar and began in fine fashion with two pieces by Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz.

The lively opening Sevilla immediately demonstrated Craig’s impressive command of his instrument as well as his ability to engage with the audience as he explained the need to alter the tuning of his guitar to play the piece.

The Asturias, also known as Leyenda, which followed is a popular piece in the classical guitar repertoire yet he managed to make it sound both fresh and interesting and coaxed some lovely colours from his new Greg Smallman guitar, particularly in the slow passages.

After a short lesson in how to play tremolo on the guitar we were treated to Francisco Tarrega’s famous tremolo piece Recuerdos de Alhambra – better known to some of a certain age as the theme tune to Out of Town. The piece has a beautiful haunting melody and requires a well controlled smooth tremolo and good phrasing which in this case presented no problems.

The elegant and beautifully executed Vals Opus 8, No 4 by the Paraguayan composer Augustin Barrios Mangoré demonstrated why this composer’s work has now become a staple of the classical guitar repertoire. Introducing a change to the programme Craig next performed an arrangement by Roland Dyens of Nuages by the legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. The piece is an instantly recognisable jazz classic but the skilful arrangement and his finely honed playing demonstrated that good music performed as well as this can transcend stylistic boundaries.

The first half of the programme concluded with two pieces by Gary Ryan, a friend and colleague of Craig’s from the Royal College of Music. Lough Caragh is an unashamedly nostalgic and contemplative piece influenced by the scenery of south-west Ireland.

This haunting piece was sublimely played, in particular the artificial harmonics which carry the melody were flawlessly executed and the Playhouse audience was transfixed and hushed throughout. By contrast the Rondo Rondeo inspired by the music of the wild west was lively and full of humour and included a few guitar tricks and brought the first half of the programme to a rousing end.

Following the interval, Craig was joined by his wife Claire for a varied programme of music for voice and guitar. Yorkshire-born Claire sings with a strong mezzo soprano voice which was not diminished by the fact she performed sitting down for the entire programme creating an intimate and relaxed atmosphere for the audience.

Beginning with Music for a While by Henry Purcell, the singer instantly grabbed the audience’s attention with a strong and lyrical rendition of the song while her partner seemed equally comfortable in the role of accompanist. The Lascio Ch’io Pianga by George Frederick Handel which followed was quite simply beautiful and was one of the highlights of the evening with both performers convincingly conveying the sadness and beauty of the song. Two short pieces by Robert Schumann followed from his Venetian Leider, Op 25. Both of these delightful love songs demonstrated the ability of the guitar, when in the right hands, to replace the piano in the accompaniment of these songs.

Benjamin Britten is not generally associated with folk songs. However his arrangement of I Will Give My Love an Apple which was often performed by the celebrated tenor Sir Peter Pears, was given a fresh interpretation by the couple. O Waly, Waly is his arrangement of the popular folk song The Water is Wide but in typical Britten fashion does not follow the traditional folk accompaniment.

Both performers seemed very comfortable with this piece and retained a strong sense of melody throughout thereby avoiding the potential for the traditional tune and accompaniment to jar.

The Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo is one of the most famous and popular pieces in the classical repertoire. The Aranjuez arrangement by Rodrigo for voice and guitar draws on the main melody from the central adagio movement of the concerto and, as Claire explained, is a love song about the intertwining of roses and the blending of two hearts in love.

The pair carried off this sparse arrangement with utter conviction and style and ably demonstrated what countless musicians have already discovered, that the Aranjuez is a good tune whatever the setting.

Claire introduced the two final pieces of the programme by Jerome Kern and declared her special fondness for his music.

This was clearly evident from her glorious rendition of the Folks Who Live On The Hill followed by the lovely All the Things You Are both given an impeccable jazz-flavoured classical guitar accompaniment by her partner.

As a well-deserved encore the couple performed a lovely arrangement of the jazz standard It Had To Be You by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn to the delight of the Playhouse audience.

It was a highly engaging and entertaining evening by two world-class musicians and all credit to the Alnwick Music Society for making it happen here in Alnwick.