Beijing Guitar Duo offers a pleasant musical holiday

By Richard Yates

The Beijing Guitar Duo performed Saturday night at the University of Miami.

The Beijing Guitar Duo performed Saturday night at the University of Miami.

The essential character of a Miami summer evening isn’t so different from that under the setting sun of some distant Mediterranean locale (apart from the oppressive local humidity).

And so if you found yourself listening to guitar music at UM’s Clarke Recital Hall in Coral Gables Saturday night, you may have forgotten that you were in Miami and not relaxing at some Italian or Spanish garden café.

Saturday’s pleasant escape was provided courtesy of the Beijing Guitar Duo and presented by the Florida Guitar Foundation in its debut season concert.

Guitarists Meng Su and Yameng Wang met at the Central Conservatory in Beijing. They formed the Beijing Guitar Duo, after coming to the U.S. to study at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory in 2009, at the suggestion of their teacher, Manuel Barrueco, who was in attendance at Saturday’s concert.

The concert was made up of music originally written for solo and duo guitar, as well as arrangements of piano music for duo guitar by Barrueco and Su and Wang themselves. While such transcriptions often lose some of the effect of the original music, the Chinese duo showed the opposite can be true. They capitalized on the rich palette of sounds the two-guitar medium is capable of, approaching the music with deeply felt expression.

Four Scarlatti sonatas (K. 173, 45, 540, and 141), originally written for harpsichord, opened the program. The charm and brilliance of this music was an excellent fit for the artists. Immediately, the listener was attuned to their excellent coordination, keen attention to detail and subtle gradations of color. The playful passagework in these arrangements was a special treat. Sometimes alternating, other times in tandem, the artists played these brilliant scalar delights with precision and clarity.

Eight Memories in Watercolor is the Opus 1 of the celebrated contemporary Chinese- American composer Tan Dun. The Beijing Guitar Duo was the first to record the two-guitar version of the work, which was originally written for piano in 1978.

Eight Memories in Watercolor is a set of recollections of the composer’s Hunan homeland. The Beijing Duo matched the contemplative nature of the music with a subdued tonal palette to bring out the simple, folk character of the melodies. In a program note, Tan Dun speaks about the music mirroring his own experience living in China after the Cultural Revolution, when Western music was once again permitted. This explains why the piece has some surprising shifts in harmony, veering from the folk character towards a more Western Classical idiom.

The two guitarists shone in their individual solo opportunities as well. Yameng Wang serenaded us with Giulio Regondi’s romantic Rêverie and Meng Su conveyed the whimsy of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Rondo. Su, who seemed the more extroverted of the two, also showed a more intimate side enriching the lyrical moments of Granados’ Valses Poéticos.

Piazzolla’s Tango Suite capped off the program with contagious rhythmic energy. As the passion-filled melodies passed back and forth in the Allegro, Wang took her turn at the helm, infusing the tango with a stirring bittersweet sentimentality. The duo returned for a truffle of an encore, playing “Anacleto de Medeiros” (Schottisch), the third movement from the Brazilian composer Radamés Gnattali’s Retratos Suíte.      

The Florida Guitar Foundation’s next concert presents Xuefei Yang 7 p.m. December 1 at Clarke Recital Hall.

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Sun Sep 8, 2013
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