Saturday, 26 January 2019

REVIEW: A Celebration Of The Guitar - The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester




It is Craig Ogden's Guitar weekend at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, and before the main concert of the weekend took place in the main auditorium, there was a free foyer concert given by Tom Doughty.

Doughty is a wheelchair user and so plays a lap-slide guitar. A flat-backed instrument on which he uses a metal tube around his finger to slide up and down the stem creating Blues, Western, Bluegrass and other American-sounding styles. I have to admit that I have never seen anyone play a guitar this way before, but I assume that his doing so was borne out of necessity more than anything else. What is evident however is the mastery of his 'style'. I am not a guitar player, I haven't even had one lesson, and so am in no way able to critique the technique or technical abilities on display. all I can do is write about how he and his music came across. He was obviously hugely passionate about his music, and if there is any criticism then it is that he was somewhat over-self-indulgent, seeming to at times enjoy the playing so much that he got carried away with it losing track of time and the fact that he was actually performing for a live audience. 

I have no idea about majority of the titles he played since he announced them so seldom, and I did find that his vocal articulation through the mic was not the best, and so, not knowing the lyrics, had difficult deciphering many of them too. That notwithstanding though, it was clear that he was both accomplished and knowledgeable about his particular guitar style, and it proved an interesting opening to a whole weekend of guitar music, lectures, concerts, masterclasses and even a film!

The main event was in the auditorium, and we gathered to witness one of the most renowned and acclaimed guitarists extant, Craig Ogden. Playing this evening with members of The Manchester Camerata, there was a varied programme on offer both in musical style and era as well as grouping.

Ogden started the concert with solo acoustic guitar music played on a Classical guitar (which he used throughout). Watching him seated alone on the vast stage large enough to accommodate a 100-piece symphony orchestra, and listening to him play an instrument which has little or nothing to offer in the way of volume control was awe-inspiring. The audience were completely hushed hanging on to every note, and, unsurprisingly since the Bridgewater Hall is as near acoustically perfect as it is possible to get, the sound was bright an clear.

Ogden played music from Baroque to modern - even an arrangement of the Beatles hit, Here Comes The Sun as a solo guitar piece. He played a couple of duets, one with cellist Hannah Roberts and the other with principal violinist Adi Brett, and several with the full company of 15 string instrumentalists too.

In the first half my favourites were 'Vals' by Barrios. This took me back to the time I lived in Austria and worked in Vienna. I would often hear street musicians playing such music on the zither, they were there just for the tourists of course, but it was reminiscent of a bygone era and I felt a touch of heimweh.  Einaudi's 'Due Tramonti'  was the duet piece with cellist Roberts, and was simple but hauntingly beautiful. The cello taking the melody and very evocative of a romantic sunset, which was the piece's inspiration. But it was Matthew Hudson's 'Rush' which finished the first half which was my overall favourite.  A contemporary Australian composer who dabbles in all styles including electro-acoustic and synthesised music, but here it was a piece for string quartet and guitar which was as eclectic and frenetic as it possibly could be. A mish-mash of styles from Classical to Minimalism with a very American Wild West feel to it too (not sure why - just my impression!) At times it sounded a little exposed though and would love to hear this piece fully orchestrated.

In the second half, my favourites included a couple of short pieces by Gary Ryan, professor at the Royal College of Music and leading guitar exponent, which were played quite beautifully by Ogden as part of his solo acoustic section. The concert's finale though was something of a showpiece for both Ogden and The Manchester Camerata as they tackled  Miroslav Todic's Walk Dance, based on a Macedoniam Folk Dance. Think of a cross between Da Falla's  'Ritual Fire Dance Dance' and Liszt's Hungarian Dances and you'll have some idea of what it was like.  

The Manchester Camerata musicians were superb this evening, making a solid and reliable backing for the talent that is Craig Ogden. For someone like myself who has had no tutelage in the instrument he made the playing seem effortless and easy, although we all knew that that simply wasn't the case. These were all difficult and challenging pieces which he scaled with elan and aplomb.

A fantastic concert and I felt privileged to have been in the audience.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 25/1/19 


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