My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home; The Shoemaker’s Wife (A Toy); The Frog Galliard; Fantasia
Introduction and Variations on a theme by Mozart, Op.9
Five Préludes – Numbers 1, 4 & 2
Homenaje – Pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy
Sevillana (Fantasia), Op.29
Torre Bermeja (Serenata); Asturias (Leyenda)
Christoph Denoth (guitar)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 15 October, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Christoph Denoth began this intelligently planned BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall with John Dowland and four transcriptions consciously described in the programme notes as “not melancholic”, in contrast to the composer’s frequently used signature “semper Dowland, semper Dolens” (always Dowland, always forlorn). In fact there was something of a spring in the step of My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home, despite its quiet dynamic, though at this point Denoth’s sound was wiry and relatively thin. The Shoemaker’s Wife was brighter, while there was an enjoyable play on the rhythmic meter in The Frog Galliard and the increasingly florid Fantasia.
The music of Fernando Sor (1778-1839) is less often heard, but his Variations on ‘O Cara Armonia’, from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, is popular among guitarists. It is easy to see why, with the grand chords that form the Introduction given a sense of theatre in this performance, and the ensuing Variations invested with plenty of character and charm. Denoth’s arpeggios were brilliantly rendered in the faster sections, and he signed off with nicely poised rubato, which raised a smile.
With the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos came greater depth of emotion, though Denoth’s continued rubato, though expressively employed, may not have been to all tastes. There was however some stylish and affectionate leaning onto the leading notes of the Second Prélude, and a pronounced melody given to the First in E minor, bringing out its connections with Chopin’s own Prelude in the same key.
The most poignant music proved to be the quietest, with Falla’s memorial to Claude Debussy keenly detailed and observed; dynamics and colours thoughtfully shaded. There was a sense of holding back here, but one that made the audience listen more closely to each statement, and the quote from ‘La soirée dans Grènade’, the second movement of Estampes, was beautifully done.
It made sense to move on from this to three Spanish showpieces, though there was never a chance of Denoth using them for outright display. Instead Turina’s Sevillana was notable for the expression of the single line in its middle section, in direct contrast to the vigorous strumming of dance rhythms, while the Albéniz was charming and relatively understated. Asturias, if beginning too quickly, was given plenty of time in its middle section for withdrawn contemplation, which made the return of the tremolo theme all the more compelling.
This was an extremely enjoyable hour’s music, which finished with a well-merited encore, Serenata Española of Joaquin Malats (1872-1912) – a Catalan pianist and composer whose music was bright and crisp under Denoth’s dextrous fingers.