An Homage to Classical Guitar

Italian guitarist Emanuele Buono

How well does the guitar, a plucked instrument, play works designed for other instruments? On Saturday, March 20th, the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society streamed a performance by Emanuele Buono as part of their International Series. In the 50 minute pre-recorded concerte, Buono answers this question with arrangements of works by Bach and Schubert.

The Italian guitarist opened his concert with J.S. Bach’s Flute Partita in A minor. For the listeners who were not familiar with the instrument’s canon, it may have been surprising to hear a composition for flute on the program. Too fast to stroll yet too slow to run, the tempo of the opening Allemande placed Buono in a strange middle ground. Combined with a lack of direction in the melodic lines, this interpretation wouldn’t convince anyone to replace their flute with a guitar any time soon. Thankfully, in the remaining movements, Buono was able to break out of this purgatory. After dazzling the audience with quick flowing lines in the Corrente, he tempered the frenetic energy with a methodical Sarabande and a lively, bouncing Bourée Anglaise.

Jumping ahead 150 years, Buono played Schubert’s Aufenthalt, Lob der Tränen, and Ständchen, in arrangements by Johann Kaspar Mertz. In spite of Buono’s technical prowess, simultaneously playing the accompaniment and lyrical vocal lines of all three asked too much of the guitar.

Hans Haug’s Prélude, Tiento et Toccata finally allowed Buono to shift into high gear. It was clear from its myriad of difficult techniques that this was a work specifically written for guitar. Upon this stage, Buono flexed his mastery over his instrument, displaying the range of dynamic, emotional, technical and theatrical effects of which the guitar is truly capable. 

A simple serenade, Gerard Drozd’s Adagio, Op. 44 (Homage to Bach), brought the concert full circle. The choice to start out the program with a piece by Bach and then end it with a more modern homage to the composer effectively traced the development of guitar music and the inspirations composers have taken and built upon. 

Logistically, the presentation was a mixed bag. Black cards with the work’s title and composer flashed on screen, providing helpful aid for viewers. However, the resonant, booming acoustic nature of the venue, while great for the guitar, made it difficult to understand Buono’s introductions. A simple fix to this issue would have been to embed subtitles into these segments. 

Visually, the recording resembled a middle school concert. Between the washed out lighting and the two primary camera angles, it felt as though this was something thrown together. However, despite these shortcomings, there were benefits only possible from seeing the performance virtually. The fine details of Buono’s artistry, whether it be his fingers flying up and down the neck or the way he caressed his instrument in emotional sync with the music were captured quite well from the profile camera angle. 

Production quibbles aside, Buono took the audience on a journey through time and the classical guitar canon, showing the capabilities and limitations of the instrument and his personal ability to push those boundaries.

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