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A Bach concerto and Brazilian beats to boot

The classically trained Los Angeles Guitar Quartet explores a range of genres with style and authenticity.

September 17, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Four guitars lined up across the stage might initially seem to be two or three too many for some listeners. But not if those musicians are the members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet.

In its nearly three decades together (with a single change in personnel), the group has set an enviable standard for the range of repertoire, the craftsmanship of the playing and the entertainment potential of a four-acoustic-guitar ensemble.

Friday night's program at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre was no exception. Although principally billed as a support event for the quartet's new Telarc recording, "LAGQ: Brazil," it offered an enticing menu of selections from other sources as well.

Each of the pieces in the opening half displayed a different facet of the LAGQ's admirable versatility: a lyrical rendering of the Overture to Rossini's "The Barber of Seville"; a marvelously imagined take on Bach's "Brandenburg" Concerto No. 6, bursting with concisely placed contrapuntal lines; and a passionately expressive overview of selections from the De Falla ballet "El Amor Brujo."

Brazil finally took center stage in the program's second half. And it was here that the LAGQ's versatility began to shine.

Although the four guitarists -- John Dearman, William Kanengiser, Scott Tennant and new guy Matthew Greif -- are classically trained, their omnivorous musical interests have brought them to a global repertoire of genres and styles. And, like Yo-Yo Ma, they have explored these genres with extraordinary authenticity.

Baden Powell's "Samba Novo" was a virtuosic tour de force, all four guitarists skimming across the rhythms with the ease of Sasha Cohen at her best.

Other highlights included a shadowy reconstruction of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "O Morro Não Tem Vez" and, with the assistance of woodwind player Katisse Buckingham and percussionist Kevin Ricard, a characteristically wild-eyed work -- "De Sábado Pra Dominguinhos" -- from the eccentric Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal.

That such a colorful group of compositions could be played by a guitar quartet was a marvel. That it was done with such style, élan and musicality was simply another example of the LAGQ at its best.

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