Milena Cifali concert review by Geoffrey Potter

Guitarist Milena Cifali enlightened the audience at the Belconnen Arts Centre on 11 Feb 2010 with a “world in six strings.” ¬† After her final piece she was given sustained, rousing applause from the small but strongly appreciative audience.¬† I overheard one member sum up the experience as ‚Äòa real journey‚Äô.

The concert began with the Cuban piece Danza Del Altiplano by Leo Brouwer and then moved to the more sketchy English Suite by John Duarte (England) based on its fusion of jazz guitar and the earlier influence of the English lute music.  From there we crossed the channel to guitar arrangements of Erik Satie’s piano music. The familiar and popular Gymnopedie number 1 was sweet, clear and strongly felt in Cifali’s hands. The companion piece, Gnossiene number 1, was Cifali’s own arrangement with the instrument tuned to the underlying minor chord to provide a richer more resonant sound for the piece.

Antonio Lauro’s intricate and rich Venezeluan waltzes provided a lovely counterpoint to the well known guitar piece Asturias Leyenda from Spain. There is a flamenco flavour in this latter work with the allegro passages for fourth to sixth strings only.  Illustrating how the world of music has been absorbed by the guitar Cifali noted the piece was written first for piano, by Isaac Albeniz, and transcribed back to guitar by Andres Segovia.

As a chamber music instrument the acoustic classical guitar sometimes struggles in larger, more open spaces including this venue. Cifali’s had clearly mastered the challenge in the second part of the concert with the opening strains of the Sakura variations from Japan arranged by Yuquijiro Yocoh. The haunting, melancholic chords found full effect. Despite its origin the piece has become a guitar classic with its beautiful slow passages (that evoke the koto) and sections for harmonics and tremolo. The rendition was excellent.

Tango En Skai by Roland Dyens introduced the familiar rhythms of Argentinian dance but pivoted sideways into virtuoso passages that displayed great guitar skill. From the Argentine inspired, the program ascended into the world of the Paraguayan composer Augustin Barrios and the opening notes of his piece La Catedral which was inspired by a spiritual experience Barrios had entering a cathedral. This piece and two more Barrios waltzes clearly consolidated the musical journey.

The last piece, Koyunbaba by Carlo Domeniconi, is based on Turkish influences and used a lower tuning for the guitar and to great effect. The opening chords produced a dramatic mood that assured the attention of the audience even in those passages that seemed like a journey within a journey.

“A world in six strings” finds a definite interest in audiences attuned to travel and the rise of world music. Cifali‚Äôs thesis is well conceived and one can only hope that the project expands from its well researched roots.

The CD Continuum by Milena Cifali is available in Canberra from Abels Music. Plans for a new CD – A World in Six Strings – is likely to include live content from the concert program.

Geoffrey Potter

16/02/2010

Geoffrey Potter is a Canberra based free lance arts writer and guitar aficionado.

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