At the first meeting of the new 2019/2020 season members of the Shipston Music Society were pleased to welcome a young classical guitarist. Michael Matthews was seven years old when he began to play the guitar and was immediately “hooked”! By 2018 he had been selected by the Concordia Foundation to perform in London and abroad, and he will shortly make his debut appearance at the Wigmore Hall.

The recital began with John Dowland’s “Lachrimae Pavan”; Fantasia No.7 which, although written originally for the lute, was given a very sympathetic performance by Matthew showing his skill in producing the soft, dulcet tones normally associated with the lute. Then followed six dance movements from Sonata ”L’Infidele” by Silvius Leopold Weiss, a german composer and lutenist.

In complete contrast the next composition was “Suite del Recuerdo” by Jose Luis Merlin which brought us into the realms of 20th century music. Born in Argentina, Merlin’s compositions show the influence of his Latin-American, Ukrainian-Jewish and Spanish roots. The six contrasting movements were played with all the rhythmic details and energy required and nimble fingerwork produced harmonics, giving the “Evocacion” an ethereal quality.

After the interval we heard “Nocturnal” by Benjamin Britten and “Sonata” by Joaquin Turina in which Matthew was able to demonstrate his deep understanding of each work and his ability to convey that to his audience.

The final piece was “Serenades of the Unicorn” by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. This was very much of the late 20th century and, as the title suggests, was a romp, played with amazing skill and lots of panache to which the audience responded with much enthusiastic applause.

Throughout the recital one was amazed at the truly formidable, technical skill of Michael Matthews and we are very grateful to the Tillett Trust for supporting him in his 2018/2019 recitals around the country. We wish him every success in his career.

The June meeting of the Shipston Music Society was held in St. Edmund’s Church as part of the Shipston Proms fortnight. The performers were Craig Ogdon and his wife Claire Bradshaw. Australian born classical guitarist Craig is one of the most exciting artists of his generation and in 2004 became the youngest instrumentalist to receive a Fellowship Award from the Royal Northern College of Music. He has performed concertos with many of the world’s leading orchestras and his recordings have received wide acclaim. Claire Bradshaw studied at the Royal Northern College of Music before completing her training at the National Opera Studio and was a finalist in the prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Awards. She has performed in concert, oratorio and opera throughout the world.

They presented a mixed programme beginning with “Music for a While” by Purcell – an ideal choice to highlight Claire’s rich mezzo voice. This was followed by some beautifully sustained singing in “Lascia ch’io Pianga by Handel and two Venetian Lieder by Schumann.

Before Craig began his solo guitar section he spent a few minutes explaining a little about  the instrument and the need for regular re-tuning throughout the programme. Then he began with movements from J.S. Bach’s Lute Suite no.3 which provided the opportunity to show his amazing technical skill: the melody was always clear above the intricate finger-work of the accompaniment. “Sevilla” by Albeniz captured the lively, rhythmic characteristics of the flamenco style with its contrasting major and minor sections and the loud spread chords. Two pieces by Gary Ryan followed. “Lough Caragh” a soft, rather wistful piece and “Rondo Rodeo”, as the name suggests, fast, and exciting  with extra “percussion” from Craig’s right hand and played with great aplomb!

The programme ended with a section for voice and guitar. Two folk songs arranged by Benjamin Britten; “I will give my Love an Apple” and “O Waly Waly” with some lovely “sotto voce” singing in the final verse. “Aranjuez” was Rodrigo’s own arrangement for voice and guitar of the main theme from his concerto, with text by his Turkish wife but translated into French! It was performed with a real feeling of longing. Finally two songs by Jerome Kern completed the programme. “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” and “All the Things You Are” were sung with a lightheartedness and demonstrated the ease with which Claire can slip from the traditional, trained style of singing into the more widely heard jazz style.

After much applause our two performers treated us to “It had to be You”. It was a fitting encore to a wonderful concert by two very talented (and busy!) people and I’m sure that many in the audience, like me, felt extremely privileged that Craig and Claire had found an opportunity in their schedules to perform in the Shipston Proms.

For the April meeting our usual venue, Shipston Methodist Church, was almost full for a recital by Claire Bradshaw (mezzo soprano) and her husband, the Australian born classical guitar player Craig Ogdon. Unfortunately Miss Bradshaw was indisposed but, undaunted, Craig Ogdon performed a complete programme of varied guitar music. He is one of the finest exponents of the instrument and has performed with all the major UK orchestras plus many abroad. He enjoys performing new works and his five Classical FM albums all shot straight to No. 1 in the classical chart. He is the youngest instrumentalist to have received a Fellowship Award from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Highlights of the evening included the “Pavanne and Fantasia” by John Dowland written towards the end of the 16th century for the lute. The lively “Grand Overture” by Mauro Giuliani provided an interesting contrast. Born in 1780, he was known as a genius on the guitar and the slow introduction followed by a fast and furious section soon illustrated his grasp of all the sounds and effects that were possible on the instrument. Later we heard two pieces by Mangore – “Julia Florida” with its beautiful lyrical melody and “Vals Op. 8” which was very rhythmic with intricate finger work. Two pieces by J.S.Bach, a “Suite for lute” and “Prelude, Gavotte, Gigue and Allemande” were followed by “Sevilla” by Albeniz. This displayed all the characteristics of traditional flamenco music; the strong powerful chords and lively melodic line played with a certain degree of rubato. One could almost hear the clicking of the castanets and the swishing of the dancers’ skirts! To complete the programme we heard two pieces by Gary Ryan, a friend of Craig Ogdon, who is another of the world’s leading exponents of the classical guitar. “Lough Garagh” with its wistful melody conjuring up scenes of peace and tranquillity and “Rondo Rodeo” a contrasting composition not for the faint-hearted performer with all the rapid finger work and different techniques required to produce the effects requested by the composer. In Craig Ogdon’s hands however, this was a memorable, virtuoso performance and was rewarded by rapturous applause from the delighted audience.

Throughout the evening Craig enlightened us with snippets of information with reference to performance (R.H. nails need to be longer and L,H. shorter), the need for regular tuning  throughout the evening and the difference between the lute and the guitar. He also entertained us with some aspects of his career and details of his guitar, made by a famous Australian luthier, Brett Williams, which was subsequently stolen but was replaced by another “which is even better”!

We felt privileged to be able to enjoy an evening of music which displayed such outstanding skill and musicianship from a world class performer in this small town. This, together with his obvious pleasure in performing, had produced an evening of unforgettable joy and delight. After a short but dazzling encore we sent our best wishes to his wife for a speedy recovery and we very much hope that we will enjoy another evening in the future when they will perform together for us.

Exceptional was the unanimous verdict of the Music Society’s audience following the October concert performed by classical guitarists Julien Vickers and Daniel Bovey. Recent, First Class Honours graduates of the Birmingham Conservatoire they are currently studying for a Joint Masters in Guitar Duo with Michael Lewin at the Royal Academy of Music in London. They have also performed many concerts up and down the country winning several major competitions, and between them, building a formidable reputation along the way.

The evening’s concert opened with a Toccata composed by Pierre Petit. It was written as pure listening pleasure rather than academic theory with its collage like feel making excursions into jazz before ending as virtuosically as it began. The rapport between Julien and Daniel was immediately apparent.

Scarlatti’s sonatas were originally composed for the keyboard and with his strong Iberian influences this allowed an easy translation to the guitar which Julien and Daniel, playing the G Minor sonata K87, did with a great deal of panache.

This was followed by Promenade 1 written in 1988 by the late Stephen Dodgson. A narrative  piece which takes the audience on an afternoon stroll along the seafront full of joy, sunshine and energy, in and out of various happenings including a dog fight, and as their playing progressed it was easy to imagine this story unfolding in front of you.

Suite Española is amongst Isaac Albéniz’s most popular works. Each of the movements of the suite portrays different regions and musical styles of Spain. Although originally written for solo piano, Cadiz and many other pieces by Albéniz have been transcribed for the guitar and have become popularly known as key pieces in the guitar’s repertoire. 

No guitar concert would be complete without the inclusion of the music of the Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo and rather than play the Concierto de Aranjuez the two instead chose Tonadilla. The first is a very mechanical movement whilst the remaining two movements reveal the lyricism and humour more distinctive of the sounds commonly associated with Rodrigo’s music.

The concert concluded with the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzola’s Tango suite for two guitars. His music has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years and his three-movement Tango Suite for two guitars composed in 1983 demonstrates why. Dramatic South American rhythms defined the suite and remarkable, gentle playing made the slow middle movement particularly moving.

Julian and Daniel are both gifted players individually and as a duo they are exceptional. They displayed an astonishing and instinctive feel for each other’s playing making the use of scores unnecessary, the whole concert being played from memory.

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