Last night at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts presented the final concert in its 35th Dynamite Guitars season. The featured artists were the husband-and-wife team of Canadian Dale Kavanagh and German Thomas Kirchhoff, who perform as the Amadeus Guitar Duo. This pair has been playing together since 1991; so last night’s concert was part of a landmark event of its own, their 25th Anniversary Concert Tour. The program followed the usual combination of transcriptions and original works, one of which was a solo piece that Kavanagh had only recently completed.
Two of the transcriptions were by Ulrich Stracke, and one involved a fascinating departure from the usual. Those familiar with the guitar recital repertoire know that there is a long history of performing the final Chaconne movement from Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 1004 D minor partita for solo violin. (One student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music once performed it by reading directly from the violin version.) However, in writing for two guitars, rather than one, Stracke decided that he would base his transcription not on Bach but on Ferruccio Busoni’s transcription of the Chaconne for piano.
This version has far more to do with Busoni’s own reputation as a virtuoso pianist than it does with his scholarly interest in Bach. From the very first chord, the listener knows that (s)he is in for about fifteen minutes of flamboyant piano display; and what is impressive about Stracke’s effort is that he managed to reduce all of Busoni’s excessive display down to only two guitars’ worth of notes. He achieved his result by focusing on Busoni’s many approaches to embellishment, figuring out which ones would best be transferred into the two-guitar version. The result turned out to be a fascinating study that revealed the major elements of the respective techniques of both Bach and Busoni, while also allowing both guitarists their own opportunities for technical display.
Stracke was in equally impressive form with the opening selection on the program, a transcription of three of the movements (Ouverture, Sarabande, and Passacaille) from George Frideric Handel’s HWV 432 keyboard suite in G minor. Once again Stracke had to deal with some very elaborate keyboard writing, even if the spirit of spectacle was now from the eighteenth, rather than the nineteenth, century; and again the results distributed across the two guitars in a manner that was always attentive to what Handel had expected of a keyboardist. Kirchhoff acknowledged that the final movement was best known for having been appropriated by Johan Halvorsen. However, Halvorsen took on little more than Handel’s theme, while Stracke’s transcription gave full vent to the virtuosity behind the entire movement than Handel composed; and Kavanagh and Kirchhoff served up a solid command of all of that virtuosity.
The program also included two pieces written for the Amadeus Duo. The program concluded with “Amasur,” a suite of short Hispanic movements by the Venezuelan composer Alfonso Montés (who has his own duo with Irina Kircher); and the first half of the program featured Jaime Mirtenbaum Zenamon’s arrangement of his Opus 27 guitar solo “Introducción e Forreando Caprichoso.” More interesting, however, was Kavanagh’s solo performance of her recently-completed Impressions, a short suite of two movements, each honoring a major figure from her knowledge of past guitar repertoire. The first of these was the English composer Malcolm Arnold. (As a personal aside, I should note that I was first exposed to Arnold’s guitar concerto while working at the campus radio station at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and I came to know this concerto well before my first encounter with Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.”) The second was the Paraguayan guitarist and composer Agustín Barrios. This was highly personal music well served by the Kavanagh’s focused execution.
The program also included the “Andaluza” movement from Mario Gangi’s Suite Spagnola and an arrangement (presumably Amadeus’ own) of the opening movement of Alexander Borodin’s second string quartet. This latter was particularly interesting through the use of strings in different registers to distinguish the four voices of the string quartet. The encore was a transcription of John Williams’ theme music for the film Schindler’s List, which might be best described as music from Williams’ “Michel Legrand period.”
More interesting than the encore, however, was the “overture” for the evening. Before Kavanagh and Kirchhoff took the stage, they were preceded by six students from the California Conservatory of Guitar in Santa Clara. They performed Andrew York’s “Spin,” a delightful perpetuum mobile in which melodic material glides smoothly from one guitar to another against an energetic texture provided by the other instruments. This was a delightful opportunity for the Omni audience to get a sense of the next generation of guitar talent, and the future is definitely looking good.