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Britten, Cage, Ginastera, Laura & Maderna

Guitar recital by Arturo Tallini

Kings Place, Hall Two, 29 October 2008

There were only a dozen people comprising the audience for this exceptionally brief recital by a distinguished Italian classical guitarist whose repertoire includes interesting contemporary works.

The promise of Scelsi's Ko-Tha did not materialise. We heard an attractive part-scored Serenata per un satellite (versione per chitarra sola) of Bruno Maderna - the notes are pre-determined, but not how they are disposed, so every performance will be different, and Britten's Nocturnal, in a fastidious account of great subtlety, with pianissimo down to the level of a clavichord.

The first half had them separated by a "guitar-performance" of Cage's silent 4'33', followed by a short improvisation in slow motion by Tallini himself.

That revealing prank (meant very seriously, it appeared) confirmed that the outside world was, as intended, banned effectively from this deep basement hall by King's Cross Station, rather undermining John Cage's intentions; the piece actually consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed. Over the years, 4′33″ became Cage's most famous and most controversial composition.

A cough or two apart, we watched in respectful silence Tallini adjust his posture twice for its three "movements", then maintain immobility again, and we drank in the ambient noise of quiet high-pitched sound (probably from the lighting) and an obtrusive mid-toned noise which - we were told later - had to do with a fan for the special artistic lighting on stage...

New concert halls generally invite audiences to acoustic testing sessions before opening. At the Royal Festival Hall in 1951, I recall gun shots for measuring reverberation time. For future acoustic testing, performances of 4'33" should definitely be included !

The second half was more extrovert, a piquant Suite Venezolana by Antonio Laura (1909 - 1980) and Ginastera's concise Sonata for guitar, op. 47, regrettably his only original composition for the instrument. After that (less than an hour's music - that including Cage's) Mr Tallini left the platform without offering his enthusiastic listeners an encore. To complete our guitar evening, we were able to hear the remainder of a popular event in Hall One, where a laid-back Antonio Forcione (who had quickly progressed from busking at Covent Garden to BBC TV and world wide fame) entertained a full house. A good raconteur, he hoped that time constraints would not bring the party to a close, and encouraged his audience to applaud the provider of amplified sound at his console, which contributed to the general gaiety of the occasion...

We were supplied with Mr Tallini's CDs which were on sale; they are interesting programmes of Castelnuovo Tedesco and a Homage to Lorca, with a welcome reminder of the British composer Reginald Smith-Brindle, who wrote a lot for guitar in a then modern idiom. But taken all in all neither of these discs is really recommendable for UK purchasers. The well thought through Lorca arrangements by Arturo Tallini for voice and guitar lack translations of the poems, and the otherwise desirable wide-ranging companion disc of chamber music with Guitar suffers from chaotic track-listing which bears no relation to the sequence actually to be heard via the record player !

I look forward to reviewing a forthcoming disc which is to include the errant Ko-Tha* which is played on the body of the guitar, not the strings (q.v. composer/guitarist Evis Sammoutis' review of Scelsi's Ko-Tha for amplified double-bass). Mr Tallini's agent should consider trying to book him for The Warehouse, where his repertoire would receive a due reception and appreciation.

Peter Grahame Woolf

P.S. * See Tallini play Scelsi's Ko-Tha at http://uk.youtube.com/arturotallini and Ginastera etc at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=m9wKYvSY0V8