Eclectic line-up gives 2014 Festival a dazzling opening night.

Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre

July 17, 2014

In some ways, up-and-coming French classical guitar wizard Judicaël Perroy and the legendary Argentinian tango-meister Máximo Pujol might seem chalk and cheese. However, as last night’s opening concert of the 2014 Adelaide International Guitar Festival proved, the two went together like a slice of mature Sardo (that’s an Argentinian cheese in case you were wondering) and a glass of Beaujolais nouveau.

Perroy, a diminutive figure with a mop of curls, practically melds with his instrument (in this case a borrowed guitar following an unspecified air-transport issue) and the results spoke for themselves. Opening with the demanding Fantasia Op 19 by Luigi Legnani, Perroy tossed off the rapid figurations with great panache whilst demonstrating a control of light and shade that was such an impressive part of his playing throughout the evening. The work throws up a series of arias, links and cadenzas that highlighted Perroy’s elegant control of ritardandi and his firm, yet thrilling technique.

Bach’s second Lute Suite drew an appropriately cooler response, the left hand roaming over the fretboard like a stately crab. The Fugue was a model of chaste decorum before a beautifully ruminative Sarabande and lively Gigue and Double. His performance of Johann Dubez’s Fantasie sur des motifs hongrois was thrillingly dramatized with plenty of rubato and some hair-raising divisions before a burst of the popular Rákóczy March – an unpublished slice of the Slavonic for the salon.

He finished with Barrios’ nostalgia laden Choro de Saudade – in Perroy’s performance full of wisful romance – and a quick-fire romp through Albéniz’s Sevilla, the speed holding no terrors despite the unfamiliarity of his borrowed instrument. Watching playing as inspired as this was a privilege.

The second half was just as successful. Although Máximo Pujol has visited our shores on previous occasions, this was the first time he has come with his trio – himself on guitar, extraordinary bandoneónista Eleonora Ferreyra and double bass player Daniel Falasca. Their totally lived-in performances were little short of magical, oozing atmosphere and bearing a stamp of authenticity you would be hard pressed to experience anywhere this side of Buenos Aires.

Among the compositions, all of them by Pujol himself, were the brilliant Tango de Lejos, and a melancholic pearl of a piece entitled Canción de la tarde. Ferreyra, a tall, reserved figure in black, shades the bandoneón with enormous subtlety, matching the avuncular Pujol’s clean-limbed, elegant technique and the characterful, slightly dragged bass of Falasca. Despite being framed by some grim stage flats reminiscent of a down-at-heel Indian restaurant, these three effortlessly conjured the sense of smoky bars, late nights and lost loves.

As a composer, Pujol’s greatest talent lies in the variety he can summon within a very specific idiom. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the Trilogia del Brujo, a work based on a short story, El Brujo (The Wizard), by Enrique González Tuñon. The extraordinary opening (El Viejo Lopéz) drew guitar glissandi as well as percussive smacks, slaps and thrums from all three players (yes, you can play the end of a bandoneón like a washboard!) Little doubt in my mind that the wizard here is Pujol.

A couple of tango numbers saw them joined on stage by Australian dancers David Backler and Dianne Heywood-Smith. He with his grey plait and she with her strawberry bob, these two were pure gold – a compelling, technically immaculate pair made even more riveting by their unexpected maturity and appropriately deadpan delivery.

By the end, I was left with the impression of having seen something remarkable – a window into a musical and cultural past that in 20 years time may no longer exist. One of those rare, unforgettable evenings then, when all you can really say is “well, that was the real deal”.

 

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