Dublin International Guitar Week

 

The world of guitar playing has a reputation for tolerating extremely variable standards, but the four concerts I caught in the second half of Dublin International Guitar Week were among the best I have heard in the festival in several years.

On Friday night, Antonio Chainho played his own music on the Portuguese guitar. His superbly stylish accompanist on the Spanish guitar was Fernando Alvim. Chainho worked regularly with the celebrated fado singer Amalia Rodrigues, who died last October, and that style informs his own compositions. The combination of hauntingly melodious music, the plangent sound of the metal-strung Portuguese guitar, and that certainty of expression which comes when the material flows in the performers' veins - all these made this concert utterly absorbing.

There was another duo concert on Sunday night. Nicola Guidetti (flute) and Maurizio Pagliarini (guitar) have worked together for 17 years. It showed, in an exemplary partnership which has led several composers to write for these musicians. Nevertheless, the programme proved problematic, for it embraced so many styles that, with unrelated short pieces predominating, the overall effect was diffuse.

I missed the lunchtime recitals on solo guitar by Andrew Keeping and Rafaella Smits; but I did get to hear some remarkable guitar ensemble work. On Saturday night, a guitar quartet from Asturias, in northwestern Spain, presented a programme of music composed for the group since 1972. These musicians were as unconventional as their name, EnTrEqUaTrE. Much of the music was written for them, and some of it proved fascinating in its exploration of ensemble playing. A large part of the enjoyment came from the players themselves, who work together as four individuals, utterly unanimous in purpose yet cheekily independent.

The Quatuor de Guitares de Versailles is a completely different type of group. Whether playing works for this medium by Piazzolla and Leo Brouwer, or excellent arrangements of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, these musicians showed the qualities of a high-class string quartet: outstanding technique, colourful sound and an imagination which always revealed something about the music.