Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Guitar Concerto Cadenza
Joy [World premiere]
Johannes Möller (guitar)
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 22 February, 2006
Venue: Purcell Room, London
Johannes Möller, a most accomplished guitarist and a fine musician, is in his early ‘twenties; he has been performing in public since he was 13 and has just completed a 4-year course at the Royal College of Music in London.
Möller designed this concert, opening the latest series of the South Bank Centre’s “Fresh” series, to display the full range of his talent and technique. Moreover, the recital consisted of works written originally for the guitar, ranging from the last decade of the 19th-century to the first decade of the current one. He played no arrangements.
The prospect of a whole evening of solo guitar is usually daunting. Monotony might be expected – a sameness of material, technical limitations and over-familiar mannerisms of style. At most, we might switch from abrasive and savage rhythms in the Spanish/Moorish manner to rippling lyricism – from the primitive to the urbane.
But here: not a bit of it. For a start, there was no sign of the Spanish/Moorish at all. Instead, quite breathtakingly, Möller put his instrument through its paces technically while putting himself through the mill emotionally.
The programme’s beginning was orthodox enough. The three pieces of Francisco Tárrega rippled along gently, with occasional thicker textures from the mellowest of chords. This music gave simple, soothing delight – soft harmonies, key changes that were unadventurous and easy to anticipate. Nothing controversial.
From the sunny softness of decades either side of 1900, we then jumped into the 1930s with Antonio José’s Sonata and Augustín Barrios Mangoré’s La catedral. This was a different world altogether. The Sonata, in particular, had anger –rough, repeated, insistent chords over the sound box from Möller’s right hand gave the lie to the articulated and deft finger work from his left. The pavana triste movement was both commanding and moving, exploring the guitar’s darker tones sepulchrally. Elsewhere melodies welled up and drifted away, often hinting at the hopes and yearning that Dennis Potter found in dance band songs of this period. We heard, in each work, a moment of showing off – with spectacular panache – the vigour, speed and clean articulation of which both instrument and player were capable.
The Villa-Lobos pieces held fewer surprises, though their skill was lightly evident. Mikael Edlund’s Small Feet, Möller told us, was too difficult to memorize. Certainly the music switched often and abruptly from snatched, clipped chords to urgent and austere activities. From the sound of it, there were neither bar lines nor key signatures. Yet Small Feet made controlled and spiky progress in arresting fashion.
Möller’s own South American-inspired Joy had a single sustained mood. Most agreeably, I heard the gentle joy of a light breeze rustling through leaves. Leo Brouwer’s Sonata was sterner stuff. Fistfuls of notes nodded occasionally towards older dance forms without doing anything as populist as reproducing their familiar rhythms. The finger work was adroit.
We finished as we had begun, with an encore courtesy of Tárrega.