Thursday, 16 June 2011

ELENA CASOLI Guitar Recital / 9th Singapore International Guitar Festival / Review

ELENA CASOLI Guitar Recital
9th Singapore International Guitar Festival
RELC Auditorium / Wednesday (15 June 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 17 June 2011 with the title "Strings of soul".

Luck has it that two of Singapore’s major international music festivals – for guitar and piano – fall on exactly the same week. Lovers of both instruments are thus split between two distant venues. In any event, the guitar festival opened first, with a recital by Italian virtuosa Elena Casoli.

Bespectacled and garbed like a 1960s folk singer, she looked more like your friendly bohemian elder sister rather than fire-breathing diva. Her recital showcased music from two opposite ends of the musical spectrum, the period predating the Baroque and the 20th and 21st centuries. The guitar is both an ancient as well as contemporary instrument, as she showed.

The juxtaposition of early Italians Pietro Borrono and Ambrosio Dalza with living composers Nicola Campogrande and Ludovico Einaudi was an euphonious one. All the pieces were of a quiet and serenade-like quality; cough and you will miss out on the intricacies. It did not help that she had to battle air-conditioning going full blast. Fortunately, the latter was soon turned off and music-making prevailed, a small price to pay.

The most interesting pieces were six of twelve Ink-jet Preludes by Campogrande, written for Casoli and so-titled because she first received these one by one through e-mail. The little mood portraits and vignettes expressed wide-ranging feelings and sentiments while exploring light and shade. She coloured these miniatures with much care and intimacy.

There were also familiar favourites, among them Harold Arlen’s Over The Rainbow, Gershwin’s Summertime and the Beatles’ Yesterday, but heard through the transcribing genius of Japanese icon Toru Takemitsu. The unusual harmonies and chord progressions piqued the ear, with the wonderful melodies lovingly laid bare.

In the second half, early music was represented by Josquin Desprez, Luis de Narvaez, Bach and John Dowland, where the more gentle textures of the lute were relived. The Dowland lachrymose pieces cried out for a singer, but Casoli’s artistry more than made up. The element of song and dance also came through winningly in Ponce’s nostalgic Estrellita, Campogrande’s jazzy Africa Blu and Leo Brouwer’s lilting Cancion de Cuna.

Casoli swapped the nylon strings of her instrument for the steel cords of festival director Thomas Liauw’s amplified guitar, and the contrast was stunning in Einaudi’s Giorni and three West-meets-East pieces from Lou Harrison’s Guitar Book. It was ample proof that guitars were like people, each with a voice and soul of its own.

The 9th Singapore International Guitar Festival runs till Sunday 19 June, and closes with a Gala Recital at 2.30 pm featuring all four guitarists - Elena Casoli, Maria Isabel Siewers, Gaelle Solal and Kaori Muraji - in concert. The Festival is presented by Tomas Music Consultants.

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