Miroirs – Alborada del gracioso [orch. composer]
Concerto in Blue [Australia premiere]
Four Studies for Orchestra – Madrid
Concierto de Aranjuez

Craig Ogden (guitar)

West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Rumon Gamba

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 14 July, 2006
Venue: Perth Concert Hall, Western Australia

This colourful concert seemed to take as its reference point one of the instruments most readily associated with Spanish music, the classical guitar, with all the works not only of an overtly Spanish flavour (only one of the composers, Rodrigo, actually being Spanish) but also either evoking the guitar’s plucked and strummed strings or, in the case of the Brophy and the Rodrigo, actually featuring the instrument itself.

After Chabrier’s España and Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso, here both acting as superlative entrées and given fine performances by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under Rumon Gamba, came the Australian premiere of Sydney composer Gerard Brophy’s Concerto in Blue for guitar and large orchestra. A co-commission by Symphony Australia and the BBC for Craig Ogden, the WASO and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Concerto in Blue was given its world premiere by the latter orchestra and Ogden in 2003.
Ogden is currently Principal Lecturer in Classical Guitar at the Royal Northern College of Music and one of the finest guitarists of his generation, with numerous recordings on the Chandos label and a busy concert schedule despite his academic commitments. He is a native of Perth, Western Australia, where he received his early training in guitar and percussion before leaving to study abroad, and makes regular visits to his home city. Gerard Brophy is also a guitarist, hence his ability to write idiomatically for the instrument.

Concerto in Blue is a four-movement work of spectacular colour and rhythmic vitality that explores all the resources of the guitar, from rapid arpeggios and delicate harmonics to shifts in register to inflect a melodic language that has its roots in Spanish, Latin American and popular traditions. Extensive use is also made of the orchestra’s tonal palette; the interplay between the guitar and a percussion group which includes piano, marimba and glockenspiel is particularly novel. Ogden’s playing was fluent and alert to the shifting moods, matched by the WASO’s sensitivity and Gamba’s precise conducting. After the work’s rather abrupt end, the composer received enthusiastic applause.

Following the interval and an interlude in the form of Stravinsky’s short, angular Madrid, came one of the finest performances I have yet to hear of Rodrigo’s ever-popular Concierto de Aranjuez. Ogden told me earlier in the week that he had played the concerto at least 120 times – and it showed. His sheer facility and ease of manner, coupled with a highly expressive approach to phrasing and tone colour (most evident in the famous slow movement), was a delight to hear; Gamba, also no stranger to the work, steered the WASO nimbly through Rodrigo’s flamenco- and rococo-inflected neoclassicism with great style and, on occasions, wit. This performance, together with that of the closing work, Ravel’s equally ubiquitous Boléro, really brought the house down.

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