In the early chapters of “Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life” (1845), Melville’s protagonist describes life in a native village as idyllic compared to life in Europe and America because their pre-industrial culture makes no distinction between work and play.
Like the “Noble Savages” of the Marquesas, top-flight musicians like Eliot Fisk and members of the South Coast Chamber Music Society fuse work and play so seamlessly that it’s easy to forget how hard they work both individually and collectively to transform their rigorous training, artistry and intuition into precise and beautiful playing.
The word “play” comes from the Old English plegan, or plegian, which means to move fast, frolic, or perform. Last Saturday, virtuoso guitarist Eliot Fisk joined oboist Donna Cobert, violinists Piotr Bucek and Christine Vitale and cellist Timothy Roberts to perform works by Mozart, Villa-Lobos, Beaser, Bach, Scarlatti, Vivaldi and Paganini. True to their genius, these marvelously serious musicians often did appear to be frolicking as they played with Fisk’s brilliant transcriptions for classical guitar of harpsichord, viola, violin, piano and lute music.
For the first piece, Fisk (the last pupil of the late Andres Segovia and the founding director of the Boston Guitar Fest) and violinist Christine Vitale performed a resounding rendition of Mozart’s Duo in G. Major, K. 423 (1783) for violin and viola. This spirited duo was followed by “O Canto do Cisne Negro,” from Bacchianas Brazilieros No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. This plaintive serenade recalling the legend of the black swan, who sings but once in her life, then dies, received a soulful performance from Fisk and cellist Timothy Roberts.
Robert Beaser’s “Mountain Songs” (1984) convey the stark contradictions of Appalachian life by juxtaposing music that evokes the expansive landscape with a dirge for a tragic elopement and death followed by an exuberant hoedown. The original recording of these songs featured Fisk on the guitar with Paula Robison on the flute, but I much preferred Donna Cobert’s haunting and sensuous oboe, which imbued these melodies with more edge and resonance than the flute.
Bach’s Ciaccona from Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004, (1717-1723), is a deep conversation with the self that requires strength and stamina, focus, concentration and finesse in addition to musicality, and hearing it played on the guitar was a novel and impressive experience. Used as I am to piano and harpsichord versions of Scarlatti’s coolly intricate keyboard sonatas, I found Fisk’s rendering of a single movement from each of four sonati intriguing and wondered how difficult it is to regulate dynamics on a classical guitar.
Antonio Vivaldi’s Lute Concerto in D Major, RV93, appealed to me much more than the Scarlatti pieces, probably because it was a coherent whole, and because the interplay of voices between guitarist Fisk, violinists Piotr Bucek and Christine Vitale and cellist Roberts was thoroughly engaging. In the second movement (Largo), the violins and cello held the vibrant continuo line while the guitar played the obbligato lute melody with the intense restraint of passion this deeply contemplative movement requires.
The concluding work, Paganini’s Sonata Concertata for Guitar and Violin, Op. 61 (1803) was a tour de force for both Fisk and Bucek, whose bravura first theme was followed by a lilting, lyrical melody and by Fisk’s dashing Spanish-flavored cadenza. The next movement, a stately dance, was followed by a third movement race to the finish — all in all, a dynamic piece on which to end a splendid concert that brought the audience at Grace Episcopal Church to their feet.
May 01, 2013