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Music Review

Brazilian Guitar Quartet Shows Pluck in a Precise Program

November 21, 2000|RICHARD S. GINELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As the old song goes, "there's an awful lot of coffee in Brazil"--and the same applies to fine guitar players. Four of them (one, eight-string virtuoso Paul Galbraith, is a native of Scotland, but that's OK) started the Brazilian Guitar Quartet in 1998--and, judging from their performance at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium on Sunday afternoon, they have already achieved a world-class degree of precision, near-perfect balance and sensitive musicality.

Since the literature doesn't exactly teem with original works for four guitars, the ensemble is adapting the example of its countryman Villa-Lobos, forging an identity that pays homage to J.S. Bach (the savior of all instrumentalists since his music sounds good when played on virtually anything) and Brazilian music via transcriptions. The quartet has made excellent transcriptions of Bach's Four Orchestral Suites (now on a Delos CD)--and its performance of the Suite No. 3 on Sunday was swift-paced, quietly rollicking and irresistibly driving, with each contrapuntal line articulated crisply.

On the other hand, Villa-Lobos' lovely "Bachianas Brasileiras" No. 1, originally written for an orchestra of cellos, pointed out both the virtues and shortcomings of transcriptions. The Brazilian dance rhythms of the Introduction and the syncopated Fugue work well on guitars, but the long-limbed melody line of the Preludio sounded abrupt on these non-sustaining instruments.

Ronaldo Miranda's "Variacoes Serias" took a mournful theme and spun off some often invigorating variations; Camargo Guarnieri's brief "Danca Negra" and "Danca Brasileira" were loaded with catchy tunes and swinging rhythms. Antonio Carlos Gomes' Sonata in D (for string quintet) drew its inspiration more from Europe than Brazil--and here, the quartet sidestepped a transcription problem by sandwiching Gomes' song "Spirito Gentil" around the playable portion of the third movement.

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