Sunday, October 21, 2018

España El Vito - More Fuego than Vito

Nicholas Young and Matthew Fagan
España El Vito (The Spirit of Spain)
Wesley Music Centre, October 19, 2018
Review by Clinton White

The title of this concert was something of a misnomer; a better descriptor might have been Fuego de España (Fire of Spain).  Indeed, this was the problem with the programming for this concert, for, in the main, it was fast, furious and Fortississimo (fff in music notation).

There’s no doubt pianist, Nicholas Young, and guitarist, Matthew Fagan, are virtuosi.  Their credentials are undeniable and their technical skills were quite astounding, especially their precise timing.  Even long vivace sequences of notes played in unison were perfect.  But with only a couple of works that gave the program some colour and a variety of moods, there was very little showing of the heart of Spain, with the majority just belted out, full pelt.

Nicholas Young
The mainly well-known pieces by Spanish greats such as Albeniz, de Falla and Rodrigo certainly were crowd-pleasers.  But it was only when Young played the two solo piano pieces, from the suite Iberia, by Albeniz, and when the pair played Tango, from another suite, España, by the same composer, that we heard something of the softer, more reflective side of Spanish music.  Even their own Fantasy on Rodrigo’s famous Concierto de Aranjuez, whilst well-contrived, did not seem to capture what the composer described as "the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains" in the gardens of the Royal Palace of Aranjuez.

Matthew Fagan
Of interest was Fagan’s 10-string guitar (he also played a standard 6-string classical instrument).  It had a depth and range perfectly suited to the genre.  However, it, and the 6-string, although played with great technical skill, were amplified.  This not only amplified the sound, but also the mechanical thumping of the fingers hitting the strings.  This interrupted and distracted from the beauty, clarity and purity of tone that is so redolent of the guitar family.  Still, on their own, they would have been no match for the power of the piano.

This was a pity, because the pairing of the piano and guitar was an inspired choice.  There was a beautiful complementarity between the two, especially when they played melody lines in unison.  Perhaps this could do with some re-thinking to see how the guitars might feature, unamplified, showcasing their true, natural, acoustic qualities.

The concept that Young and Fagan have up with has potential.  With some more thoughtful programming and a bit more “spirit” in the interpretations, coupled with their very fine playing, their concerts will be more musically satisfying.