Guitar is everywhere today. It is second only to piano in the numbers of people who play it. And there are so many kinds of guitars and styles of guitar playing, from blues to folk to rock and many more: and each style has its own virtuosos – that is, utterly mind-blowing musicians! – such as Jimi Hendrix on electric.
Ana Vidovic is a classical guitar virtuoso. What differentiates classical from other guitar forms? A main characteristic is utmost attention to tempo and dynamics. And this is where Vidovic excels. Her interpretations have more range in dynamics than almost any other guitarist. She is the queen of pianissimo, able to play so softly you think you might need an ear-trumpet; softly, but with clarity. In many of the pieces, a motif is repeated two or more times at different volumes, and the variations make the same motifs fresh each time they occur. She also uses changes in tempo liberally, holding the top of an unexpected chord progression just enough to add to the tension it creates, or slowing down at the end of a musical phrase or section before returning to the original tempo.
She has said that her favorite composer is Bach, and she began with a flute partita, which is a collection of pieces for different dances popular among aristocrats in that era. Vidovic played with precision and delicacy, allowing more variations in tempo than would have been used for actual dancing. The Sarabande was a reverie; it was played even more slowly than a current slow dance, and they didn’t slow dance in Bach’s time!
The next two pieces were, as she noted, staples of the classical guitar repertoire. With the Sonata Eroica by Giuliani, an early 19th century composer, one would expect a more “heroic” mood as in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, but the music is rather playful instead, and the heroism comes in mastering its difficulty. Tarrega was perhaps the first classical guitarist who captured the public’s imagination in the late 19th century. While still a child, he ran away from home and lived with Gypsies; that influence can be heard in his compositions. Vidovic played his Recuerdos de la Alhambra with gorgeous mastery of the tremolo, in which each note in the melodic line is played in rapid succession with different fingers, giving the impression that it is just one shimmering tone. Capricho Arabe, strangely does not have any Middle Eastern flavor at all, while Danza Mora is the piece that DOES sound Arabic, with its rhythms inspired by the Algerian tambour. Lagrima, or “teardrop,” with its Gypsy rhythms, conjures up a lovestruck dude playing under the balcony of the target of his affections.
In the second half, Agustin Barrios Mangore’s La Catedral brought us back to Bach who was also a favorite of Barrios’. As in many Bach pieces, in the Allegro, hidden within the 16th note arpeggios there is a melodic line that the performer must draw out; Vidovic does so, creating the illusion that there are two guitars playing. The two Scarlatti Sonatas originally written for piano were playful jewels. Last on the program was Piazzolla, the late 20th century Argentine composer famous for his tangoes that incorporate elements from both classical and jazz traditions. As in the rest of the program, Vidovic played with simplicity and ease; no theatrics, no unnecessary motions, no grimacing, no scraping from her fingers on the strings, just purity of sound. As a hana hou, she chose Asturias by Albeniz; if you recognize just one classical guitar piece, this would be it.
At the beginning of this review I mentioned Jimi Hendrix (with a nod to Big Island Music’s editor, Steve Roby, Hendrix expert par excellence) who brought out sounds with his guitar no one had heard before; and at the end I talked about Piazzolla’s incorporation of several styles to create his new one, nuevo tango. If there is any criticism at all of Ana Vidovic, it would be that she stays within a safe range, offering a repertoire that stays focused on familiar classics which audiences love, but which do not challenge us. That said, she plays those classics with such mastery and grace! That may be gift enough.
For more info on Ana Vidovics’ music and videos, please visit her official site: http://www.anavidovic.com
Meizhu Lui didn’t know there was any other kind of music except classical until she hit junior high! Piano and flute have been her own instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.
Photos: Steve Roby