Mike Baker, Vasilis Bessas, James Jervis and Rory Russell are four British musicians who showed incredible class. Not only did they present a very rich programme, but also a high level of technical ability. These music college friends have been playing together for sixteen years. Their Aquarelle Guitar Quartet seized the attention of the audience in Gliwice, to the extent that the spectators refused to let the musicians leave the hall.
This year’s 16th edition of the International Gliwice Guitar Festival was, like the ones in previous years, a very successful event. To say that this event is influential across the whole country would not be an understatement. Many world-famous guitarists visited Gliwice (and so Poland as well) for the first time and will definitely remember the warm welcome that they received for a very long time. When Gerard Drozd, the man who came up with the idea for the festival and its Artistic Director, began to build up the first programme for the event 16 years ago, he dreamed for this musical experiment (as he once referred to the festival in an interview) to become a regular event in the cultural life of the city. And his wish came true. The event is now a prestigious guitar festival, which has been rated as outstanding by both performers and critics alike, but most importantly, by the audience itself.
The concert on Sunday deserved similar praise. The heroes of the evening chose a repertoire full of pieces which were melodious and pleasant to listen to. They also included some contemporary music, which was surprisingly easy on the ears, but more on that later. The Aquarelle Guitar Quartet is one of the most famous British chamber groups. It is famous for its own arrangements of music from all over the world, ranging from the Renaissance, to contemporary compositions. They perform enthusiastically and give many concerts, not only organising masterclasses for soloists or chamber groups, but also giving educational recitals to a large audience. In 2009, the group signed with the British record company Chandos Records and have since recorded four albums: “Dances”, “Spirit of Brazil”, “Final Cut” and “Cuatro”. Pieces from, for example, “Final Cut” were included in the programme of the concert in Gliwice.
In the first part of the concert, the group presented three pieces: “Grand Solo” (Fernando Sorr), “La Vega” (Isaac Albeniz) and “Quiccan” (Andrew York). “La Vega” by Albeniz was a particularly surprising, yet interesting piece. This famous and extraordinarily prolific Spanish composer and pianist lived in Paris for many years and was good friends with Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, as well as other French composers. They would often exchange ideas and present their initial sketches for new works to each other in the Parisian parlours, hence why Albeniz is treated as a co-creator of the French Impressionist movement. However it was not long until his compositions were forgotten and it is only recently that works such as “La Vega” or “Cantos de Espana” (or the now famous “Asturias”) are returning to concert hall repertoire. What’s more, Albeniz liked the transcriptions of his pieces for guitar so much, that he would often write that he preferred the guitar versions to the original ones.
The second part of the concert was filled with film music, with arrangements by the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet, like for instance the theme music from the film “Frida”. James Jervis used the charango for [Motorcycle Diaries]. This small Peruvian string instrument resembles a mandolin, but its soundboard was originally made from the shell of an armadillo. Of course the soundboards are now crafted from high quality wood.
The concert ended with a magnificent musical surprise: “Folias” by Ian Krouse, a piece lasting over fifteen minutes focused around the motif of the folia, an old Portuguese dance. This composition was very elaborate, multidimensional but also very difficult technically. The final performance of the group, as could be expected, was rewarded with great applause, of a truly immense scale.