Sunday, January 20, 2013

Two Guitarists: Roland Dyens and Ana Vidovic

I was just wondering what to post about when I saw a comment on yesterday's post asking my opinion on Roland Dyens and Ana Vidovic. Happy to oblige!

I have already mentioned Ana Vidovic a few times and I did a post on her and Quebec guitarist Jérôme Ducharme a while back. Speaking of Jérôme Ducharme, we had him play a concert for us Friday night and it was a great experience. He played the Villa-Lobos preludes superlatively in every way. He also played a spectacular piece by Quebec composer Maxime McKinley called "Mandala". Virtuoso, but ending with a lovely long passage in harmonics. Good piece, very well played. The pinnacle of the evening was the Twenty Variations and Fugue on "Folias de España" by Manuel Ponce. Again, a terrific performance of one of the most challenging pieces in the repertoire. The encore was a masterful "Recuerdos de la Alhambra".

But I'm supposed to be talking about Roland Dyens. I first heard about him when his piece "Tango en skaï" was published quite a few years ago. Here he is playing it:

"Skaï" is a French slang term for imitation leather, so the title indicates a gaudy, humorous take on the tango. Here he is playing the "Fuoco" movement from his Libra Sonatine:

I think I am supposed to be discussing Roland Dyens as a guitarist, not a composer, so let's hear him playing something by someone else. Here is a Chopin waltz, op 69, no 2:

Regarding his playing, he has something a lot of classical guitarists are weak on: a strong rhythmic sense. He has a groove! But while he is precise in that area, he is sloppy in a lot of other areas. He doesn't seem to have much sense of tone color. He makes some nasty sounds at times and doesn't seem to go for any shading of color. He also doesn't have much sense of shaping a phrase. He plays to his strengths, surely, but it is hard to call him a well-rounded classical guitarist. He really seems more to play with a jazz sensibility. And after listening to his Chopin, I am strongly tempted to call him the world's best restaurant guitarist.

What about his compositions? I don't hear much there apart from flashy guitar virtuosity, which palls for me pretty quickly.

On to Ana Vidovic. Here she is playing the "Alla Cubana" from William Walton's "Five Bagatelles":

Now that is fine classical guitar playing: clean, precise, lovely tone, beautifully phrased, nice dynamics. Everything that Roland Dyens ignores. Here is another movement from the Walton:

And finally, here is the Presto from the first Violin Sonata by Bach, which is at least as difficult as it sounds:

Ana Vidovic is a very fine player with loads of technique. Sometimes she misreads an accidental--I've noticed a couple in Moreno Torroba--but she is a young player and has room to grow as an artist. Well worth listening to now and in the future.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply and your informative comments. I've long been fascinated by Ana Vidovic -- ok, she looks gorgeous but I am talking about her playing. Her technique is fabulous. I went to your earlier post and I liked her "Catedral" a lot. (Since you're open to requests from your readers, perhaps you can explain to us at some point why Segovia NEVER played any Barrios: I heard there was a personal feud... whatever it is, it's inexcusable to me.)

Back to Ana. Her Alla Cubana is marvelous, but her Sonata doesn't work. I can't quite tell why. I hope the answer is not that the piece should not be played on a guitar. More likely, she might not understand what Bach is trying to do, which is to assert the violin as both a rhythmic instrument and one that can carry a bass line. So at the beginning, Bach plays the highest notes in the downbeat but then changes dramatically by playing the bass on the downbeat. Even though the change is naturally striking on the violin because the bow must skip over all these strings, someone like Milstein still stretches these high 16th notes with a rubato to mark the syncopation. But she plays by the metronome and it sounds pretty flat.

I have an idea: She teaches Dyens how to phrase and he teaches her how do rhythm. If she can't make her music dance, she has to stay away from Bach.

Bryan Townsend said...

You bring up some interesting issues. It is not indicated in the Dover edition, but I think in the original manuscript there were barlines and half-barlines that indicated the "hypermeter". At least when I prepared an edition for guitar this is what I did and I think I got them from the manuscript.

I agree that there are some problems with Vidovic's Presto. This is supposedly Manuel Barrueco's edition, but if so, I'm surprised because there are some things that just don't work. I'm talking about the added bass notes. Sometimes he just takes a note down an octave, but in mm 25. 26, 27 there is a pedal note that is just not there in the violin ms. And it doesn't work! I don't think any of us are really qualified to add bass notes to Bach. They never add, but usually subtract.

Another problem is that the guitar is sounding an octave lower, but Vidovic is playing this at the same tempo as it is often heard on violin. I actually think she is slightly faster than the Milstein version! I think this is why her version sounds a bit squeezed.

The version I like the most and in fact, the only one I think really works is the one by Kristóf Baráti. In January 2008 he played all the solo violin music in one mammoth recital in Moscow. Here is the Presto:

./MiS said...

I have recently (well, a year or so ago) discovered Dyens' rendition of Berimbau by Baden Powell ( but the actual music starts at 0.42). I find Dyens' version so much more "berimbauesque". And I think that his sense of rhythm and his sloppiness in other areas, as you point out, actually contributes to the colour of this wanna-make-a-guitar-sound-like-a-berimbau. And he may be lacking tone color and phrasing in classical pieces but in this he gets really into the sound and brings out a ton of nuance in the tone and phrasing, only in the beginning, first 40 seconds or so, there is some much going on, even "between" the notes.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for the interesting comment on the berimbau!

I see exactly what you mean. The berimbau, like so many instruments of African origin, has a complexity of timbre that Dyen's does capture.