Stewart French Wednesday 15th June 2005

Stewart French June 2005

Wednesday evening in Richmond Park. Following a rather wet and boring day the weather picked up in time for a trip to Richmond Park to the impressive Pembroke Lodge one time home of Bertand Russell.

Up in the elegant first floor drawing room we were regaled by a young guitarist Stewart French. It would have been easy to be distracted by the birds in the trees outside which were in constant view but the elegant playing of this unassuming young man transported us to a world of music.

The evening started with Air Varie` Number 1 by G Regondi. This was for me a first and I was aware for the first few minutes Stewart seemed slightly nervous but soon warmed to the task in hand.

The Air was played through followed by a number of variations. I can’t be alone in thinking that the second section seemed to develop into “Santa Lucia” the third section appeared to be a variation on the “Santa Lucia” theme but any connection in the fourth section was too distant for me to follow. The final section started in a much more lively manner and finished with a deal of aplomb to a rousing applause by the audience present.

The main fare of the first half followed which consisted of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words opus 19 No 1, No 4, No 5 and No 6. These transcriptions were done by the performer and my overall impression was that I prefer them this way Mendelssohn not being one of my particular favourites.

The Guitar was tuned down to D and off we went with song number one. As I said I felt that this was much preferable to the original’ as he progressed to number four this was played with all the majesty of the original with an impressive range of tone let down slightly by a couple of squeaks and Burrs.

Number five started with a relentless poco agitato rhythm broken by some rather beautiful expressive pauses and rests then back to the almost relentless rhythm. To my ear this almost sounded as though it had been written originally for the guitar and left us all wondering what Mendelssohn might have produced if the guitar had been an “acceptable” instrument in his day. For song six the guitar was tuned back to E and again the piece started like a guitar original. This was majestically and sympathetically played with just a hint of Mendelssohn’s beloved Bach choral sounds. This was a technically brilliant performance with Stewart producing a lovely effect with his right hand harmonics.

After a glass of wine we got down to the second half of the evening. Rodrigo (famous to all guitarists and non guitarists alike for the Adagio from his Concierto de Aranjuez), and his Invocacion y Danza. This was introduced to us by Stewart suggesting that we listen out to the Invocacion with the dance appearing later. The piece started with an atmospheric start played on harmonics slowly fading to an Hispanic dance theme. We were fooled though as we quickly returned to the harmonics with Stewart demonstrating a delightful left hand technique in the non harmonic sections. The dance theme proper came along which was an up beat dance section with echoes of Spain and Latin America returning to the harmonic section and ending with a tremolo section.

Barrios came next with two pieces the first, Vals was a lively waltz with a French feel in parts. Certain sections would have felt at home played on an accordion in a Parisian bar. Other sections were played around the keyboard and provided a delightful contrast.

The guitar was then tuned down again and we heard Una Limosa, or An arm for the love of God, This had an Hispanic dissonant opening which was gradually underlaid by a tremolo section . Although there was no obvious falling cadence the overall feeling was one of a haunting slightly sad mood which was emphasised by the tremolo tune which decayed into a peaceful and beautiful ending.

The final scheduled piece was Appassionata written in 1981 by Miranda. This started with almost jazzlike rhythms and developed through a semi tremolo section into a set of Hispanic scales. We heard some lovely bell like sounds and many changes of mood as the concert came to a satisfactory conclusion – or did it?

We had another of Stewart’s transcriptions as an encore. Not satisfied with transcribing Mendelssohn we now had a transcription of Beethoven’s piano sonata Opus 101 number 28 After a week of relentless Beethoven on Radio three this may well have been a mistake but it turned out to be a brave and satisfying transcription with the hard chordal sounds reminiscent of the Fortepiano that Beethoven would have heard in his youth when his hearing was still good.

Overall a lovely evening in a lovely setting. Stewart’s next project is a recording of John Rutter’s songs for baritone and guitar which will hopefully be in the shops before Christmas so send you order to Father Christmas straight away as I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Steve Ledwick - Greenwood Classical Guitar Society