Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Richard Fong, an amateur guitarist in Washington state.
French guitarist Gabriel Bianco gave a stunning recital that the Frye Art museum on Saturday, March 27th. Mssr. Bianco won the Guitar Foundation of America (GFA) competition in 2008, and with it a fifty date concert tour of north America, as well as several international dates. The word was obviously out in guitar circles that this was a don’t miss: The Frye concerts are free—tickets for the 2PM concerts are given out starting at 1PM. To the disappointment of many, they were gone at 1:05!
Mssr. Bianco plays in a slightly unusual position. The majority of classical guitarists hold the guitar at roughly a 45 degree angle to the floor. He holds uses a much more upright position—the neck of the guitar is pointed at about one o’clock if you were looking right at him. I don’t know if this is the intention, but one result is his eyes are much closer to the fretboard. He does still look relaxed and comfortable in this postion.
The program opened with Sor’s Variations of a Theme of Mozart, based on a familiar theme from “The Magic Flute.” This virtuosic display piece is one of the few classical guitar works that has gone mainstream– it was even used in an insurance company commercial that aired frequently for a time during golf tournaments. Mssr. Bianco played it fluently and brightly, giving the audience a quick introduction to his technical prowess. This young man (not quite twenty-two!) has some impressive chops, indeed.
He then asked if we had programs, then with a smile and a twinkle in his eye said that it didn’t matter because he was going to change it anyway. He took out the Koshkin Sonata and a Mertz transcription of Schubert’s “Lob der Thraenen.” Instead, the Sor was followed by a Rodrigo piece, the title of which I didn’t catch. Unfortunately, I am not familiar enough with Rodrigo’s music that I know much of it by name, and I waited too long to run through my collection of Rodrigo to figure which it was. I think it was “En Los Trigales.” Regardless, Mssr. Bianco showed he could paint a very vivid, romantic picture with his playing.
Here’s where the program really got interesting. The program listed Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 3 next. Mssr. Bianco announced he would play No. 2 instead. I don’t know what his process was, but imagine waking up the morning of a concert and being able to say, hey, I don’t feel like No. 3, I’ll go with No. 2 instead today… The second movement, a fugue, has two, three, and as he pointed out, sometimes four voices going simultaneously. His playing was clear and articulate, the voices clearly distinct in tone and volume.
Mssr. Bianco returned to romantic works for the rest of the program. Barrios’ wonderful three part musical poem, “La Catedral,” which opens with two beautifully evocative slower movements followed by a technical tour de force finale was brilliant, especially considering he was interrupted by someone’s hearing aid giving off various electronic tones due to a dying battery. (I had no idea what it was, though it was only two seats away from me. And in a weird paradox, the guy who had it in his ear couldn’t hear it, because the battery was dying!)
In her Seattle concert last fall, Xuefei Yang introduced me to the works of Guilio Regondi. Regondi was a contemporary and friend of Mendelssohn and Schumann (my original guess, Chopin and Liszt, wasn’t far off) whose works fell out of favor for some time, one of the reasons being they were considered too hard to play. Not a problem for Mssr. Bianco. He played the “Introduction and Caprice,” a piece with seemingly every technical challenge possible. He played chromatic scale runs up and down the fretboard effortlessly. It didn’t even look like he lifted his fingers. It confirmed my earlier impression—he has the most relaxed and fluid looking left hand I’ve ever seen.
After gracefully accepting a standing ovation (and actually looking a bit embarrassed by the attention), Mssr. Bianco played one encore, Barrios’ “Julia Florida,” the one piece on the program I play myself. He played it noticeably faster than any of the recordings I’ve heard while studying it over the course of the past few months—most give it a slower, more romantic tempo with more glissando and vibrato than he used. That said, his tone and expression were pure and sweet, and his rubato used to good effect.
There is little doubt that Mssr. Bianco has what it takes to make his mark in the world of classical guitar. Let’s hope he remains a mainstay on the concert scene for a long time to come.