One of Andrés Segovia’s recording projects was an album entitled Five Centuries of the Spanish Guitar. (Never mind that the earliest selections on the album predate the Spanish guitar as we now know it.) In his solo recital last night in the Concert Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, guitarist Emanuele Buono restricted himself to only three centuries but also expanded beyond the Iberian peninsula with only one Spanish composer on his program, Dionisio Aguado y García. His performance was the second public concert to be given as part of the third edition of the International Guitar Competition Maurizio Biasini, listed in the program book at the 2013 Winner’s Concert. Buono had take the first prize at the 2013 competition in Basel, Switzerland (preceded by second prize at the first competition, which was held in Bologna, Italy, in 2011).
Buono’s survey of three centuries showed a preference for earlier times, but it offered some fascinating perspectives. Neither of the two eighteenth-century selections was written for guitar. The first, was one of the lute sonatas by Sylvius Leopold Weiss, currently cataloged as WeissSW 34. The other eighteenth-century selection was Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken XVI/22 piano sonata in E major transposed into A major. The nineteenth century featured the one Spanish composer on the program, Aguado, while the second nineteenth-century selection consisted of Mauro Giuliani’s first “Rossiniana” pastiche of themes by Gioachino Rossini (Opus 119). There was only one twentieth-century composition, which opened the program. The composer was Alexandre Tansman; and his coupling of a passacaglia and fugue was clearly a reflection on Johann Sebastian Bach’s similar pairing for organ in C minor (BWV 582).
The eighteenth-century selections showed Buono at his most imaginative. He tuned down his two lower strings for his Weiss selection to accommodate the broader range of the lute. He may not have been able to evoke the deeper bass sonorities of the lute, but he certainly captured the contrapuntal spirit of the music. Weiss met Bach through his friendship with Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedemann, and Weiss supposedly challenged Sebastian to a competition in improvisation. Through Buono’s performance one could appreciate that Weiss probably held his own.
The Haydn sonata was a greater challenge. Presumably Buono prepared his own arrangement. He may have been drawn to it because of the arpeggios that pervade the first movement. He certainly handled these deftly, but he often ran the risk of losing track of the melodic line within the fabric of those arpeggios. This was clearly music written with the keyboard in mind, but Buono’s effort to rise to the challenge of transcription was certainly memorable.
In many respect the Tansman composition was a more satisfactory reflection of keyboard music reconceived for guitar. It goes without saying that Tansman did not try to make the guitar sound like an organ. However, there was always a clear sense of parallel involving the passacaglia theme itself, the approach to variation, and the idea of unfolding a fugue as the final variation. Buono performed this piece with a clear presentation of the many lines of counterpoint, allowing the listener to reflect on how Bach had been refracted through Tansman’s imagination.
The Aguado selection was the second of the three “Rondo Brillants” of his Opus 2, with the rondo prefaced by an Andante introduction. This was representative of nineteenth-century salon music, providing a satisfying blend of engaging melody with enough virtuosity to draw the listener’s attention to the performer. However, the showier selection came with Giuliani’s pastiche of Rossini. For this particular “Rossiniana,” most of the sources came from L’italiana in Algeri. However, the finale draws upon Armida, while the introspective opening draws upon the “Willow song” from Otello. Giuliani was clearly more in his element than he was in his concerto writing, and selecting his Opus 119 allowed Buono to bring his recital to a flashy conclusion. As a result, when Buono returned to take an encore, he quieted things down with a calming Andante movement in E major by Ferdinando Carulli, probably taken from his set of six published as his Opus 320. (Carulli’s opus count ran to 366.)