On such a hot day it was a pleasure to join the ample audience in the cool of St John the Evangelist for such an eclectic selection of classical guitar music. In deference to Oxford May Music’s scientific theme, Ogden chose to open yesterday’s recital with Armand Coeck’s 1986 piece for solo guitar entitled 'Constellations'. From the opening strident chord, through the slight air of unease perpetrated by a three-note repetition throughout the piece, to the final two abrupt, closing chords we were transported to the chilly depths of the cosmos.
After a reshuffle of the running order, Ogden continued solo to play Albéniz’s 'Sevilla' and 'Torre Bermeja' which in contrast to the Coeck piece are grounded in classical guitar tradition and evoke the musical and lyrical traditions of Spain. 'Sevilla' was rendered with playful precision, and in 'Torre Bemeja' Ogden demonstrated his ease and mastery of intricate plucking and fingering accompanied by joyous and exuberant chords.
The following piece, Peter Hope’s 'Divertimento for Guitar Quartet', proved very popular with the audience. It is one of Craig Ogden’s favourite pieces (which he has previously recorded) and the composer himself attended the recital. Now joined by violins, viola and cello the opening movement captured a sound which was quintessentially English, whilst retaining the air of a lost pastoral idyll as the other instruments complemented and emphasized the guitar’s range. The cello continued this note of melancholic yearning in the second movement punctuated by precision guitar playing. As the movement developed Jack Liebeck (Artistic Director) on violin became the complementary player to the guitar, achieving aching high notes underpinned by the guitar’s more mellifluous tones. The piece concluded with the slightly incongruous but nonetheless foot-stompingly enjoyable 'bluegrass' themed third movement.
With a slight change to the line-up, but continuing with Craig Ogden physically and spiritually central in the ensemble, the concert carried on with an accomplished rendition of Boccherini’s 'Fandango' which clearly demonstrated whether high or low, fast or slow Craig Ogden is master of his instrument. His seemingly quiet and unassuming playing style belies an intense musician who interposes his precise playing with dramatic musical flourishes. This was evident in the group’s rendition of Piazzolla’s 'Histoire de Tango I and II' which featured an emotive interplay between Liebeck and Ogden – a guitar-driven sadness emphasized by an emotive violin. In the second, more upbeat part Ogden was able to demonstrate the wider variety of sounds generated on the guitar – crashing strings and drumming on the body of the instrument.
The recital ended with the musical helter-skelter which is Matthew Hindson’s 'Rush'. At first, the piece is seemingly driven by a clamouring disharmony of plucked notes begun by the guitar and then frenziedly taken up by the strings which is then underpinned by guitar chords. In the uproar the piece seems frenetic and disharmonious but as the music frenetically develops, harmonious themes become clear in the constantly building, confusing and undermining tones. Connections on every level become apparent and then transparent, all driven by the rapid staccato tones of the plucked strings and ultimately building to plucked guitar strings and finishing tumultuously with a final plucked chord echoing round the cool church and into the hot, dusty streets. A tumultuous end to a delightful afternoon concert.