Santa Fe Guitar Quartet bring Latin warmth to Flagler Museum

By Sharon McDaniel

Despite their growing popularity, guitar quartets simply aren’t that commonplace. So when a music series schedules this “other” string foursome not once, but three times over three consecutive seasons, it raises eyebrows – and awareness.

 Kudos to the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum in Palm Beach: Tuesday night’s concert by the Santa Fe Guitar Quartet (of Santa Fe, Argentina), offered an unusually rich exposure to an art form that, given the five-century span of classical music, is still in its youth.

  And it’s growing up fast. Flagler hosted the Brazilian Guitar Quartet almost exactly one year ago. Coincidentally, one month ago, the Kravis Center presented The Romeros, the foursome that practically founded the movement forty years ago.

  Like the Flagler series that hosted them, the Santa Fe players are celebrating their 10th anniversary. SFG4, as they call themselves, is made up of two Argentineans (Miguel Piva and Mariano Fontana) and two North Americans (Eric Slavin, who introduced the music, and Christopher Dorsey).

  With such an uncrowded field, the groups are easy to compare. The Romeros emphasize classic style, polish and individual artistry. The Brazilians are clearly orchestral-minded, practically imitating the sounds and timbres of other instruments on guitar. They set the Flagler Music Room to ringing with a big sound.

  The Santa Fe men prefer a more intimate volume level and a color blend that stays well within the guitar mid-range. Arrangements and transcriptions of Albeniz, Bach, Vivaldi and Piazzolla, most by Piva, reinforce the guitar’s best qualities. The scores strive for a seamless blend. Add players who consistently match each other in instrumental color and the resulting sound appeals like a sturdy but soft, plush cushion.

   Striking solos and improvisation by Piva and Fontana, especially in the Piazzolla and in Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico, Op. 3, No. 10 (RV 580), stood out eloquently. But mostly, Santa Fe cruised down the center lane. The major exception was Bach’s Prelude and Fugue, BWV 539. Slavin lost his way in part of the prelude. But the fugue, as each voice rose in turn in clear relief, was one of the evening’s finest performances – refined yet conversational.

  Two Albeniz piano works introduced the well-manicured Santa Fe sound:  the eight minutes of misty tranquility in Almeria (from Iberia) and the upbeat, songful Aragon (from Suite Espagnole). With SFG4, the pieces became watercolors: The sense of ambience was delightful.

  The familiar Vivaldi concerto could have been more brilliant. But early on, unstable ensemble and tempos on the stodgy side kept the melodies from singing. Only in the lovely, somber slow movement did the players start to hit their stride.

  Had we the benefit of an audio studio, instead of Flagler’s beautifully bright acoustics, we might have heard Piazzolla’s magnificent Cuatro Estaciones porteñas (The Four Seasons) with more crispness and clarity. Still, it was a tour-de-force by Santa Fe. Each tango movement was a showcase of solos and special effects, with gutsy attitude and prismatic mood swings. Earlier downsides, like unyielding tempos or inconsistent playing, were never an issue.

  The finale, Spring, was a full-scale assault on the senses, and led to calls from the audience for an encore. SFG4, adding a contrabass guitar to the mix, obliged with the splendid Danzon, described as a song for lovers, by Cuban-born Paquito D’Rivera.

  The next Flagler Museum Music Series event is at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 3. The Prima Trio (clarinet, violin and piano), winner of the 2007 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition, performs Mozart, Schumann, Khachaturian and Schickele. A champagne and dessert reception with the performers follows the concert. It’s at Whitehall Way and Cocoanut Row in Palm Beach. For tickets, call 561-655-2833 or visit

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Thu Jan 22, 2009
at 12:07 pm
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