Morgan Szymanski and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields by Thérèse Wassily Saba.
The Academy of St Martin in the Fields was founded in 1958 by Sir Neville Marriner; it is a chamber orchestra with a long history of working with guitarists. On this occasion there was no conductor and the lead violinist, Kenneth Sillito, took on the role of leading/conducting the orchestra of 17 instrumentalists. They began with the Holberg Suite Op.40 by Grieg. The sound they produced was rich and filled the Wigmore Hall. Their dynamics were carefully planned and the contrasts between piano and forte dynamics were very clear.
The Mexican guitarist Morgan Szymanski joined the Academy for the Guitar Concerto RV93 in D major by Vivaldi. Positioned in the centre of the ensemble and although he played without any amplification, I could still hear his guitar and the changes of timbres at the back of the hall, in this solidly good performance of the work.
The Academy of St Martin in the Fields performed the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9 by Villa-Lobos. The work was completed in 1945 and exists in two versions: one for choir, singing without words, and in the version we heard here for chamber ensemble (no guitar, of course). The work builds very dramatically into what Villa-Lobos described as ‘the suggestion of a large organ’.
The Concerto for Guitar and String Orchestra by the Irish/German composer Alec Roth was written for Morgan Szymanski. The orchestration was very attractive; Alec Roth used the resources of the guitar and string ensemble very well to create attractive sound colours, such as his use of pizzicato strings against strummed chords on the guitar. There is an effective and beautiful tremolo section later. One could hear the pleasure of the composer in creating these sounds. The Concerto had a distinctly individual nature and did not sound like anyone else’s composition.
The Concerto starts with the guitar playing solo in harmonics, followed by an ettouffe ostinato passage, which acts as an introduction for the string orchestra. The ostinato on the guitar continues but with a building up of ideas and thus the music is immediately engaging and easy to follow. The catchy rhythm of the first movement, March, added to this accessibility. The Serenade second movement has a more relaxed and romantic character, with gentle and soothing harmony, ending dramatically with the strings using contemporary playing techniques, such as creating the sounds of noisy seagulls by squeaking up and down their fingerboards with their bows. The Nocturne third movement has two distinctive characters: the gentle lullaby contrasted with the more frightening fears that come upon us in the dark. The final movement called Fiesta is as lively as its title suggests and ends with a very positive feel.
The Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Morgan Szymanski have been touring with the Concerto for Guitar and String Orchestra by Alec Roth since October 2010. This was its London première.