Flamenco guitar shouldn't work in a 1,900-seat concert hall: It seems a contradiction in terms. Ideally, the setting for this hot-blooded, improvisatory music would be an intimate, smoke-filled cafe in Seville.
So how did Sabicas, the veteran Spanish musician, overcome the coldness and distance of Royce Hall, UCLA, on Friday? Not with the show-biz pizazz of a Manitas de Plata, or with the intensity and blinding virtuosity of a Paco de Lucia. He did it with taste, skilled pacing and a total command of the subtly diverse styles of Flamenco.
In a fast-moving program, the guitarist traveled easily, and often brilliantly, through a dozen or so five-minute musical excursions.
His compositions never bogged down in repetition and rarely suffered from a lack of melodic invention. "Cuevas del Sacromonte," for example, offered several inventive modulations. "Semana Santa en Sevilla" opened and closed with an enticing, Arabic-flavored, strummed bass melody.
Such an effect was used here as a means to an end. Flamenco, of course, has more than its share of pure flash and Sabicas did not disappoint those who came to gasp: strummed crossed bass strings that created a snare-drum sound in "Arabia," left-hand-alone passage work that dazzled eye and ear, etc.
Mostly, though, the playing inspired silent respect, rather than demonstrative waves of jaleo . But the standing ovation that followed the final strums of "Fiesta en Jerez" was spontaneous and genuine.