The name Grigoryan is one of the most formidable family names in Australian music, as for a few decades now we have been captivated and inspired by the performances and international careers of family members. Tickets are hard to come by when Slava is in town, and with partner Sharon adding another world of string colour and possibilities for both new compositions and re-imagined classical repertoire, respect for these world-class, award-winning performers is high.
Astor Piazzola originally wrote his popular Histoire du Tango suite for flute and guitar; today, it is often adapted to other instruments without losing its Argentinian spirit. Romantic and at times melancholic, Café 1930 opened with a sensitive arpeggiated solo guitar introduction, Slava’s reverberating string tones and freely expressive phrases creating a gentle and nostalgic atmosphere. A bold passionate cello entry brought much beauty and sorrow with descending phrases and soulful free expression. A more spirited central section accelerated the movement nicely until the original melodic sadness returned, then allowed Slava to add his own contemporary harmonies and closing motifs.
Italian Alessandro Marcello (1673- 1747) is attributed with composing the Oboe Concerto in D minor, although other published arrangements include a significant transcription for harpsichord by J.S. Bach. Slava’s arrangement today for cello and guitar highlighted his skills and musical vision, as we were given a robust and expressive first movement Andante e Spiccato with refined and elegant classical phrasing, and a contemporary fresh tempo and spirit. Sharon’s cello expanded the tonal colour and timbre of the Marcello’s original Baroque elegance of the second movement Largo with affective, warm and touching romantic expression and full depth of tone and beauty. Over pulsating gentle guitar chords, the atmosphere created by the duo in the intimate historic walls of Beleura’s music salon was truly perfect. Both instruments were able to technically stretch their wings in the third movement Presto with continuous joyful counterpoint and rapid running lines, hand in hand, to close in a joyful and celebratory mood.
Enrique Granados wrote a collection of twelve important short pieces for voice, true melodic gems with atmospheric and idiomatic folk elements, and mixed folk dance meters. A selection of five Tonadillas, songs of love and loss, were delightful songs without words. The first, very short and sweet, lyrical and affirmative, was a charming waltz with contrasting muted softness and tonal contrasts. The second added virtuosic and showy fills between verses with humorous pauses, and the third also entertained the audience with playful dynamic timbral and tempo changes. The darker minor key took us into a slower portrait of a gentle gypsy song, while the last song increased its sense of bravura and rhythmic attack with a vibrant partnership of the two instruments for a brightly coloured Latin dance.
The popular peaceful and meditative Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt never fails in its universal appeal, so its inclusion in the program reset the mood for perfect harmony and balance. The theme of illusion, simplicity, introspection and harmony perhaps unintentionally flowed to the next work, Grounded, commissioned by and written for the Grigoryans by Anne Cawrse during Covid lockdown. Sharon told us some personal reflections on feeling grounded at home, not performing, and this piece was quite pictorial with its musical account. Solo cello opened with sparse, downward glissandos, seeming to symbolise our falling spirits and frustrated thoughts. Short guitar punctuations offered support – introverted, hesitating and understated. As both instruments developed patterns searching for new directions, conversations developed and the cello in particular explored richer dynamics and activity; new patterns with Oriental suggestions emerged, melodic steps grew, and growth in musical activity seemed to say “Let’s get life going again.” Accelerating together, both instruments overcame their grounded feeling and were off plucking strings, skipping and running together in harmony.
A smooth segue by the duo brought us into an extra musical gem, by the contemporary pianist Mario Laginha, the very beautiful Tanto Espaca (So Much Space, 2007). Warm, romantic jazz ballad in style, the piece seemed to restore all beauty and harmony to the world as life became “normal” following months of being grounded.
The final programmed work, Julie-O (1988), was composed by cellist Mark Summer, founder of the creative Purple Edge Quartet. Tonight’s arrangement was a wonderfully vibrant mix of classical and jazz elements, off-beat and quirky phrases, harmonic plucked notes, irregular time signatures, traded conversational phrases and additional wood-slapping, string bending, drones and unpredictability. An acceleration towards the end brought much joy and the expected applause, which simply would not stop.
The highly welcomed encore from Bolivian composer Jaime Zenamon, the third movement Vivissimo from Reflexões No 6 , gave us a wild taste of both the contemporary harmonies and the exciting metrical and rhythmic changes of traditional Spanish dance music. It was a final demonstration of the wonderful relationship between cello and guitar, Sharon and Slava.
Julie McErlain reviewed the guitar recital performed by Slava and Sharon Grigoryan at Beleura House and Garden on July 21, 2023.