A large and appreciative audience at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake was treated to a delightful concert last Sunday by the all-woman, five-guitar ensemble, Gitarrissima of Vienna. Wearing glorious scarlet and playing three normal-sized guitars, one smaller octave guitar and one larger classical bass guitar this was a programme of joyful music-making for the Christmas Season.
The concert started with Rossini’s Barber of Seville overture, played with great gusto and technical precision. This was followed by some very imaginative arrangements of six movements from Tchaikovsy’s great ballet scores: Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Highlights included the wonderful use of harmonics in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the great variety of tone and dynamics used to convey the moods of the different pieces, and the way the group displayed great musicianship as the famous melodies were seamlessly passed from one player to the next.
The first half ended with a medley of numbers from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, showing off Gitarrissima’s facility across different genres and included a most sensitive and poignant arrangement of Summertime.
The second half opened with a special extra … arrangements of four Seasonal numbers including Rudolf, Jingle Bells and a Hungarian Christmas folksong. Next came something different again; Bantu, by Andrew York. This started off with all the players tapping the African cross-rhythms on the bodies of their guitars before the melodies came in. In fact, across the concert we got to hear a variety of amazing effects on the guitars … hitting the strings, drumming rhythms on the guitar’s body, sliding the fingers over the strings, using tremelos (fast repeated notes) to sound like long sustained notes, glissandos and harmonics … all to great effect.
Next up were excepts from Khachaturian’s ballet Gayaneh, including the famous Sabre Dance, and the concert ended with a suite of Thracian Dances by the Bulgarian composer Stainov. These were again played with great sensitivity and spirit, sending us all home with a smile on our faces and a spring in our steps.
The group clearly love bringing their expertise on the guitar to a wide spectrum of music, and that came across strongly in a highly enjoyable performance of excellent music-making by five very fine musicians.
If you enjoyed hearing Jess Gillam a couple of years ago, the next Keswick Music Society concert will certainly appeal. It’s on Sunday 5 January 2020 at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick and features the exceptional young British saxophonist Jonathan Radford, accompanied by gifted pianist Ashley Fripp playing original compositions for the sax and arrangements of classical favourites. Tickets are available from Theatre by the Lake, and half-season tickets from keswick-music-society.org.uk