Simon Thacker - Guitar
01 December 2011
King's College Chapel
To celebrate his final recital as Honorary Fellow in Performance at the University of Aberdeen, guitar virtuoso Simon Thacker took his audience on a fascinating whirlwind tour of music by composers representing Spain, Cuba, Paraguay, Mexico, Japan and England. Much of the music was among the finest in the guitar repertoire, much of it by composers who were not themselves guitarists and beginning with a piece by Joaquin Malats originally written as a composition for piano. One wonders however if the spirit of the guitar was in the blood of Spanish composers like Malats, or was it because his Serenata espagñola was arranged by wizard guitarist Tárrega that it actually sounded more at home and certainly more “Spanish” on guitar than on piano – (listen to several such versions on the net and decide for yourself). I loved the way that Simon Thacker drove the rhythmic backing that led constantly into the soaring melody on the guitar. This, I felt, was what Spanish guitar music should sound like.
Although not himself a guitarist, Manuel de Falla certainly wrote understandingly for the instrument and Simon Thacker gave us a tellingly delicate and meaningful performance of the Hominaje (pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy) in which more than a hint of Debussy’s harmonic language was clothed in the rhythmic intensity of Spanish music.
From Spain to Cuba and the Afro-Cuban sound world of Leo Brouwer; Simon Thacker gave us an even more delicate and poised performance of the Cancion de cuna (Berceuse). This was followed by Danza caracteristica, a conga with the intriguing title Quitate de la acera or Get off the Sidewalk. The eight part Variation sur un theme de Django Reinhardt had really only the theme or part of it as a homage to the famous gypsy guitar maestro but Brouwer’s handling of the variations was masterful and Simon Thacker drove the work to its magnificent Toccata conclusion with real verve and laid back panache.
The Paraguayan composer Agustin Barrios Mangoré seems to have been a bit of a character according to Simon Thacker (Google images to see him in his Indian regalia). However, his composition La Catedral was a colourful atmospheric sound picture from the bells and the organ music all depicted on the guitar to the glorious finale with all its colour and bustle.
On to Mexico and the Sonatina Meridional by Manuel Ponce; the Spanish influence was strong here and the bright liveliness of the final Fiesta had an inspiringly gaudy brilliance to it.
So far we had heard music that was either Spanish in inspiration or came from composers and countries in which the Spanish influence had given birth to several different but related musical languages. In all of these Simon Thacker not only brought out the particular cultural ambience of the music, he also exploited the different tones and textures of the guitar from ringing clarity to almost percussive muting of the string tones.
In his next piece he took us on to a different sound world altogether. A Young Sprout by the Japanese composer Minoru Miki was written for the Koto and arranged for guitar by Brouwer. Well away from the fire and intensity of Spanish or Latin music this was very Japanese in its Zen like detachment, something that the guitar also captures rather well.
The final piece in the official programme was by none other than England’s own Benjamin Britten. The Nocturnal after John Dowland for guitar Op.70 was composed for Julian Bream and the historical background to this music comes from the repertoire for lute rather than for Spanish guitar. Like Villa Lobos, Britten was not a guitarist but he certainly had a flair for the instrument. The descriptions of the different variations reveal the spirit of the music perfectly. How do you express agitation, restlessness or unease in musical terms? These are all different states of mind though closely related but Britten succeeds in putting those feelings across brilliantly and Simon Thacker certainly translated them on the guitar. Perhaps the sudden springing to life of the noisy Chapel air-conditioning at one of the quieter moments of the music helped that sense of unease to develop, however that did not stop Thacker from leading us into the splendid finale where Dowland’s melody is finally revealed.
To complete his recital Simon Thacker took us back to the world of Spanish inspired music with his encore: the Prelude No.1 Homage to Segovia by Villa Lobos and what better way to end a first rate guitar recital?