VIAF 2014

A lesson in elegance and refinement by Simon Schembri

One of Malta’s best exports in the world of music, Simon Schembri gave a masterful performance this evening of works by some of the best-known composers for guitar.

We were somewhat apprehensive in that Simon Schembri’s concert coincided with the opening of unarguably the greatest show on earth in the world of sport – the Fifa World Cup – and, to compound the difficulty, a tournament that this time round is being held in Brazil …

Well, our concern was ill-founded for St Augustine Church was packed. For a good 80 minutes, Simon regaled an appreciative audience with his dazzling technique and interpretative powers. You could hear the proverbial pin drop … He is not just a brilliant player but a very fine musician indeed.

From the lovely miniatures by Tárrega to the intellectual architectonic frame of a Bach Prelude and Fugue in D Major BWV998, to Albéniz’s kaleidoscopic Mallorca and the passionate Asturias, the articulation was impeccable and the nuances of shade and feeling beyond what one would almost expect of the guitar.

In Villa-Lobos’s 5 Preludes, the audience was taken on a virtual tour of the human condition – from the melancholy that nostalgia inevitably brings with it, to the exuberance and passion of a Rio de Janeiro Carnival, on to a third Prelude that is dedicated to Bach in its majestic texture. The fourth piece, a dark and dramatic work that borders on the tragic leads into the fifth Prelude, typified by the light-hearted and almost irresistible charm that one associates with the generous social life of a Brazilian. These 5 Preludes were executed with supreme elegance and an exquisite balance between intellect and feeling.

The more modern Brouwer brought a gentle dose of Cuban exoticism. Alternating in equal measure between the sad and the lively, this performance was characterized by a sound technique and crystalline, rippling arpeggios. The final two pieces on the programme were Piazzolla’s Invierno Porteño and La Muerte del Angel.  Moving from Cuban rhythms to Argentine tango, the shift was seamless and natural. The latent heat of Piazzolla’s tango simmered without ever bordering on the unbearable and the result was an exciting and colourful execution of two very difficult pieces.

Two short encores rounded up what will be remembered as a truly remarkable concert, one that blended passion with elegance, extraordinary technique with a profound musical understanding of very difficult if well-known works. A truly uplifting experience … it will be some time before we will have the privilege to hear a guitar sing!