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November 16, 2004

Not in Time Out - Royal College of Music students' concerts & Jose Maria Guerrero

Posted by David Conway

Jose Maria Guerrero – London Recital

Lloyd Buck, Oliver Miller and the Alea Quartet –
Royal College of Music, London
11th November 2004

Two invitations I have recently received have reminded me that not all of London's concerts – and not all the most interesting ones, at that – are featured in the listings pages.

The first was to a soirée organised by supporters of the young Spanish tenor Jose Maria Guerrero. Guerrero, born in Pamplona to a family of flamenco musicians, has studied in Barcelona, London and Milan. He has given recitals in London and his first recording, of Italian arias by Mascagni, Respighi and others was issued by Warner earlier this year. On this occasion Guerrero, accompanied by Richard Pearce, offered us a programme of songs from his native country ranging from de Falla, Ginastera and Rodrigo to popular ballads and songs from, I would guess, the first half of the last century.

I am not a connoisseur of this repertory, but Guerrero completely won me over and convinced me – and his audience - of its charm and passion. His performance simply radiated authenticity and commitment. The voice has both warmth and focus. Moreover, Guerrero is a natural communicator, not only with his song but also with his eyes, hands and the inclination of his head, all of course essential in flamenco. For some of his songs we were given the bonus of the participation of the elegant Mila Soler as dancer and although I am as hard-hearted as music critics are required to be to enter the profession, I admit to having been enchanted.

But the major honours must go to Guerrero. I particularly admired the songs 'Princesita' by Padilla, 'Te quiero' by Serrano and a piece of echt-flamenco, the 'Zorongo' of Lorca. In two Italian encores, a Neapolitan popular song and the (I suppose) inevitable 'Vesti la giubba' Guerrero showed us that he can evoke a supple and mellifluous Italian tone as well as the more hard-edged colourings of flamenco, and he came back, for a third encore, with a magnificent performance of 'Granada'.

Mr. Guerrero's rather saturnine good looks were warmly commended by the ladies of the audience, and when my wife discovered in conversation with him that he was also a trained masseur and could repair computers, a number were ready to marry him on the spot. I recommend any opera producers to snap him up quickly before any covetous females remove him from the music market. We all deserve to see and hear him. In the mean time I earnestly hope that we may have a recording soon which will include the songs we heard (or indeed a DVD with Ms. Soler as well).

Incidentally, can anyone tell me why flamenco music is so named? Flamenco is the Spanish word for 'Belgian', (which would seem rather to detract from its exotic allure). The conventional explanation that this music originated in Flanders and was brought by gypsies to Spain seems rather implausible.

My other invitation was of a different sort and came to me thorough my incarnation as webmaster of The Alkan Society. Lloyd Buck, a student at the Royal College of Music, e-mailed me to let me know he was going to perform Charles-Valentin Alkan's Overture op. 39 no.11 at a lunchtime student concert. Both the Royal Academy and the Royal College organise many concerts throughout the year, of all sorts, and entry to many of these is free.

Alkan was a French piano virtuoso and composer, a friend and rival of Chopin and Liszt, whose merits are only now being revived after a century of neglect. His op. 39 Preludes, in each of the minor keys, are one of music's major assault courses – they include a complete Concerto, for piano solo, of which the first movement alone lasts about 35 minutes. The Overture – really a three-and-a bit sectioned fantasy – although extending over a mere quarter-hour, is scarcely less intimidating in its physical demands. Mr. Buck showed a fine sense of the overall shape of uncompromising work, keeping his audience closely in touch with its argument, and tackled its enormous spreads and vertiginous octave passages with aplomb.

In the same concert, Oliver Miller, accompanied by Sebastian Stanley, gave a fresh performance of the Flute Sonata of the (presumably Georgian) composer Otar Taktakashvili, pleasant and polished if not memorable, and the Alea Quartet gave us Puccini’s miniature lollipop, Crisantemi.

I highly commend visiting the students' concerts from time to time: it is immensely reassuring to discover the amount and variety of music-making that is going on, and the level of commitment they display. You will enjoy not only the music itself, but will come away with the satisfying conviction that there will always be those who, in the face of ongoing pronouncements on the death, irrelevance or 'élitism' of culture, will nevertheless not let it lie.


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