Stephen Yates Saturday 22nd February 2003

Stephen Yates Feb 2002Greenwood Guitar Society's current concert series is impressively international in flavour. But tonight's guest, Stephen Yates, didn't need a budget airline to get here - he's something of a local boy, from South London. Nothing provincial about his programme, or playing, though: a very solid programme performed with great accomplishment.

Yates is one of the most wide-ranging players on the scene. A dazzling exponent of traditional Celtic and American music on the banjo, and outstanding steel string player, he has also recorded and toured as lead guitarist of a rock band!

He was in mainstream classical mode tonight, though, opening with the Bach. The third and fifth movements impressed the most with their clean elegance and neat ornamentation, and the fourth was delightfully crisp and bouncy. The hall's infamous proximity to passing trains was maybe to blame for a couple of memory lapses. Yates's plummy, well-upholstered tone recalls that of Manual Barrueco, so it was no surprise to learn that Yates is a fan of the Cuban guitarist, whose fearsome arrangements of the Paganini (including fast harmonics, very fast runs, leaping high notes and half-stopped strings) were dispatched with great verve.

The second half saw some richly Spanish sounds in the Albeniz and Granados, and in Rodrigo's remarkable homage-within-a-homage, a wonderful work which pays tribute to Falla. Very different in atmosphere were Peter Maxwell Davies¹s Hill Runes: no scorching Iberian sun here, but the misty and mysterious earthiness of the composer's Orkney home. Two Barrios standards rounded off the second half of the official program.

For an encore Yates performed Morel's delightful arrangement of the familiar Westside Story numbers, I Feel Pretty, Maria, and I'd Like to be in America, completing an enjoyable evening from an unusually talented performer.

There's a lot of justifiably worried talk at the moment about government legislation on live music venues. If concerts like this - played, incidentally, to another virtually full house - were to become impractical, it would be very sad indeed for music and music lovers.

Rob Ainsley