As part of the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Local Heroes series in the Primrose Potter Salon, guitar duo Ziggy and Miles Johnston presented a selection of popular “Classical Masterpieces” in some exciting arrangements tailored to showcase the virtuosity of both the artists and their instruments.
Who would have thought that an orchestral piece such as Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville could be brought to life so convincingly by merely two guitars? Italian guitarist, cellist, singer and composer, Mauro Giuliani, the leading guitar virtuoso of the early 19th century, was ideally placed to arrange the opera composer’s Overture for maximum effect; in fact, this piece was only one of the many Rossini themes Giuliani arranged for guitar, a practice similar to Liszt’s piano arrangements of several Verdi operas. Both composers also assumed a high degree of musicianship and technical ability – qualities the Johnston duo possesses in abundance. Nowadays, there might not be the same motivation of popularising the originals and making them more widely known, but hearing works in a new format brings a refreshing insight into certain aspects of the music. Even though the orchestral version might be playing in the mind’s ear, a shift of focus gave new emphasis to various elements. Played with such dexterity, spirit and colour, it was certainly entertaining – as a smiling audience confirmed.
As the winner of the 2018 Classical Guitar Competition in the biennial Adelaide International Guitar Festival, Miles Johnson was presented with a valuable Jim Redgate guitar. A renowned Australian Luthier, Redgate crafts guitars that are visually beautiful and produce a remarkable range of colour. The latter really came to the fore in an arrangement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11 by Lorenzo Micheli and Matteo Mela, a renowned guitar duo who perform around the world as SoloDuo. Years of experience has enabled them to discover the optimum way of transcribing music in a way that works in terms of good taste and playability – notwithstanding the many challenges, of course. The third movement Alla Turca is one of the most popular pieces in the piano repertoire and the Johnston brothers treated its catchy tune with the buoyant fluency and attention to light and shade exhibited by the nimblest pianistic fingers.
Another Micheli and Mela arrangement concluded the set program. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, or Moonlight Sonata as it is popularly known, took tonal colour to a whole new level. It is debatable whether all the subtleties of the Redgate guitar in the hands of Miles Johnston can be fully captured in a recording; it is a very special experience to hear a classical guitar played live with such eloquence. The Adagio sostenuto first movement was taken at a moderate pace with considered shaping of the phrases and expressive detail. The final Presto agitato was a thrilling display of skill and coordination as running passages were seamlessly shared between the two guitars. Without being unduly laborious, careful tuning was maintained throughout the concert, but playing a superior, super-responsive instrument meant that Miles always had to be alert to matching dynamics. It would have been so easy to dominate the overall sound even though Ziggy produced a captivating mellow sound appropriate to his part.
As an encore, the pair played Julian Bream’s arrangement of Boccherini’s Introduction and Fandango, blending music often associated with classical guitar with the “Classical Masterpieces” theme. Again, years of playing as a duo, supported by their mentors Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, resulted in a superb display of skill and shared musical intention much appreciated by an enthusiastic audience.
Heather Leviston reviewed “Classical Masterpieces”, presented by Melbourne Recital Centre and Ziggy & Miles Johnston, at the MRC Primrose Potter Salon on July 9, 2019.