BWW Review: ADELAIDE INTERNATIONAL GUITAR FESTIVAL 2018: BEIJING GUITAR DUO & MARKO TOPCHII at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 9th August 2018.
My first visit to the Adelaide International Guitar Festival 2018 was to review the concert presented by the Beijing Guitar Duo and Marko Topchii. The duo is Meng Su and Yamen Wang, both from Qingdao in China, with exceptional solo careers behind them before joining to perform together, and Marko Topchii is from Kiev, Ukraine, an equally renowned artist with pages of awards and competition prizes to his name. All three have impressive credentials and have won many awards and so it was with great anticipation that I attended this concert.
The first half of the concert featured Marko Topchii, who began with a lively piece, Six Variations on 'I bin a Kohlbauern Bub', Op.49, by Mauro Giuliani, with considerable inventiveness in the six variations that demonstrated his superb technical skills. It was easy to see why he was won so many competitions the world over.
For his second piece, he moved to a slower, more introspective work, Polish composer Alexandre Tansman's Pièce en forme de Passcaille. In this piece, we were able to see beyond the technique into the emotional depth of his performance.
Next was a piece by that marvellous Cuban composer, Leo Brouwer, the title of which, unfortunately, I didn't catch.
Russian composer, Nikita Koshkin's Introduction e Vivace, was a piece with which I was unfamiliar and it is always exciting to be introduced to works for the first time, especially when played with such skill as this.
Topchii ended his part of the concert with Joachim Rodrigo's Toccata. It would be a rare guitar concert that didn't include at least one piece by a Spanish composer and the fire of this piece was a fitting close to his half of the evening. Needless to say, he garnered considerable applause.
With barely time for the audience to take a breath, Topchii left and the Beijing Guitar Duo immediately took his place. They began with arrangements of two of Domenico Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas, k173 and k141, arranged for two guitars. He was a prolific composer, producing 555 of these sonatas, originally for harpsichord but generally played on piano now. These two contrasting pieces provided a fine introduction, highlighting their impressive dexterity and the way in which they matched their playing into a singular, cohesive whole.
The next work was by a Spanish composer whose name and the title of the work I, again, didn't catch. The voices were soft, the audience was restless, and no microphone had been supplied.
They then played selections from Chinese composer Tan Dun's very first published work, Eight Memories in Watercolour, Op. 1. Better known outsideChina for his music for the cinema, and a regular and popular visitor to our OzAsia Festival, this work was originally written in 1978/9, while he was still a student, as a suite for solo piano. Inspired by folk melodies and memories of his childhood, and in response to his homesickness, the eight movements are 1. Missing Moon, 2. Staccato Beans, 3. Herdboy's Song, 4. Blue Nun, 5. Ancient Burial, 6. Floating Clouds, 7. Red Wildemess, and 8. Sunrain. It was transcribed for two guitars by Manuel Barrueco, with whom both members of the duo are currently studying. Each movement is an exquisite miniature, with the entire work taking only around fifteen minutes to play. The duo played the première of the arranged work in San Francisco, in December 2010. It is a complex and fascinating piece, definitely for advanced players. The first movement, Missing Moon, for example, has six flats in the key signature, and opens with a long free-form section, with no bar lines, ending with three bars in 4/4 time. They played four movements, containing enormous variations and played with great delicacy, which left one wishing to hear the full work.
Next came a piece from Spanish flamenco composer, Paco Peña, the title of which escaped me, followed by a piece by a Brazilian composer, whose name I also couldn't catch, who wrote a piece that offers musical portraits of four composers. Between numbers during the second half, patrons were leaving, and some re-entering, obviously not having allowed for a ninety-minute concert without an interval and being caught short. Their inconsiderately noisy perambulations, unfortunately, drowned the announcements.
Both pieces, though, offered the duo ample opportunities to demonstrate their remarkable versatility, covering a wide range of stylistic possibilities as well as requiring virtuosic playing. The ease and fluidity of their performances were most impressive. As an encore, the duo returned to Tan Dun's piece for one more movement, and exited to considerable applause.
The duo will be performing again in the opening gala on Friday and the closing finale on Sunday, so you still have two more opportunities to hear these remarkable performers, if you can still get tickets.
Photography: Sophie Zhai