Grigoryan Brothers: Recital

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Published: 30th September, 2019

Being one of many spiritually wounded and exhausted souls who left the Melbourne MCG on Sat 21st Sept, with hopes shattered and dreams gone from our black and white hearts, only a concert by guitarists Leonard and Slava Grigoryan could re-colour our hearts, and return us to the real world of spiritual healing, restitution and inner composure. Unlike the MCG experience, this concert guaranteed the playing of a perfect team, with a perfect audience and with a more accessible ticket price.

Renovations to the Warrnambool Lighthouse Theatre have provided a Studio which is a perfect setting for classical and chamber performances, with an intimate audience connection, a nourishing and vibrant acoustic, and an audience of faithful and perceptive lovers of fine music. With only minimal stage lighting on the two guitarists, and the audience kept well in the darkest of dark, there were absolutely no other aural or visual distractions. This maximised the best way for listeners to be absorbed in the performance and focus on every note of music played. A rare treat.

A favourite program opener, Slava’s arrangement of Fantasy on a Theme by William Lawes, like an ancient sunrise, develops from earthy bass drones which increase in intensity as repeated patterns change colour and timbre with varying finger techniques. More brilliant scale sections turn into folk-like dance melodies, the broad triple meter just hinting at the polonaise dance, before a contrasting fresh sarabande re-defines the Lawes’ connection.

Two Romantic chansons, Tchaikovsky’s None But The Lonely Heart and Dvorak’s Songs My Mother Taught Me, provided more muted tones and blended softness, as Leonard and Slava demonstrated the perfect synchronization of melody and accompaniment, melded as one, like dancers joined in the quasi Latin rhythms and gentle syncopation. In the second piece (Dvorak) one verse was performed almost entirely with harmonics, the melody becoming translucent with fragile overtones – quite an innovative delicacy.

Leonard’s composition This Time, is contemporary in structure and content, with an extended, almost minimalist introduction (shades of early Einaudi?) preceding the arrival of a strong, authoritative melody. The architecture developed with each section, as colourful Flamenco percussive effects, drones and a pulsating accompaniment enriched this engrossing and colourful piece.

With several nominations for ARIA awards, this year the brothers received their first major award – 2019 AIR award for Best Independent Classical Album for their album of J.S. Bach Concertos, recorded with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. This year the brothers released their 12th Studio album, a collection of Handel keyboard suites. Their classy repertoire allows the duo to demonstrate a myriad of guitar techniques in music borrowed from various sources and styles, but with added personal interpretation and extemporization. G. F. Handel’s Suite No 2 (HWV 452) was a demonstration of the harmony between Leonard and Slava, where in spirited, dynamic sections I found myself occasionally questioning which brother was playing which part! That was how good the balance of echoing or weaving of contrapuntal lines appeared. This Baroque music had warmth, eloquent expression, and impressive ornamentation. The Gigue was very pleasantly unhurried, smooth and graceful, its modest tempo allowing the melody to show elegance and warmth.

From Ralph Towner’s Suite for two guitars we heard three movements. 1. From a Dream began with a syncopated, quirky accompaniment, which developed into a study of free flying runs and jazz elements. 2. Sarabande opened with a complete calmness, a welcoming slow, slow tempo, bordering on pathos and sorrow. This was the moment to hold the audience in a deep, calm place. I felt that the piece lost this emotion as a little insistency and increased tempo hurried the middle section somewhat. When the opening section returned it was calm and nostalgic, but not so profound. 3. Duende, which, loosely, is a Spanish term for a state of emotion, passion, expression, response, often connected with Flamenco, realised more complex Latin dance rhythms and technical flair. Improvisatory freefall and jazz elements added much excitement.

Radames Gnatalli (1906 – 1988) was a prolific Brazilian composer of popular and classical music, and his Suite Retratos is highly regarded by guitar duos and very well liked by today’s audience. Its four movements suggest the characteristics, style and flavour of the genre of each of four different composers. Portraits are of their musical genres rather than of the person. The colours of the Alhambra were always there, whether the texture of the music was florid, dense and passionate, or a slow romantic waltz which accelerated into a robust carnival dance. The personal and musical partnership between Leonard and Slava seemed so easy through the many changing meters, pauses, sensitive rubatos and passages of gypsy virtuosity and freedom.

For the delightful film A Boy Named Sailboat, which was a prize winner at the Boston Film festival 2018, Leonard & Slava have composed a score which further demonstrates their achievement as a unique and creative Australian duo. The concert closed with a sample of the imaginative and colourful variations of folk songs and nursery tunes that were the brief for the film score.

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Julie McErlain reviewed the Grigoryan Brothers in a recital given at Warrnambool Lighthouse Studio on September 22, 2019.