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Tuesday, January 28, 2020


(James Grace & Christopher Duigan .Pic by Val Adamson)

Grace is a seasoned, international musician with the sort of finesse which comes from being pitted against the world’s best. (Review by Dr Martin Goldstein)

The opening Friends of Music concert of 2020, which took place on Sunday January 26, set the tone for a promising year ahead. It comprised of a collaboration between two iconic musicians, Christopher Duigan (piano) and James Grace (guitar). Duigan has certainly endeared himself to local audiences through his ability to bring tasteful music to a broader audience. Grace has established himself internationally as a performer, recording artist and pedagogue.

The first half of the concert featured Duigan on the piano. He performed the Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin; Les Barricades Mystérieuses (The Mysterious Barricades) by François Couperin; Variationen Zur Gesundung Von Arinushka by Arvo Pärt; Ouro sobre azul by Ernesto Nazareth; Sonata in B-flat major Op. 22: Allegro by Ludwig van Beethoven; Raindrop Prelude from Preludes Op. 28 by Frederic Chopin; Sonata in G by Domenico Scarlatti; Prelude in C-sharp minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff; Nicole Bianche by Ludovico Einaudi and Cristal by Cesar Camargo Mariano. The second half of the concert saw Duigan pair up with Grace, as suggested by the title of this concert. They performed Serenata Española by Joaquin Malats; Spanish Dance No. 5 by Enrique Granados; Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tárrega; Black Orpheus by Luiz Bonfá; Milonga by Jorge Cardosa; Fields of Gold by Sting and Spain by Chick Corea.

Given the origins of the guitar as an instrument, the concert had something of a Latin bent to it, as was evidenced in the repertoire selected by both musicians.

Duigan’s opening number, the Joplin, was a great hit with the audience and seemed to reassure them that the concert was not going to be drab. He allowed the essential notes of the melody to predominate without excessive attention to detail.

He provided an interesting introduction to the Couperin which he brought to life in his rendition of it. One could almost sense the fluttering eyelashes which he explained might be the “mysterious barricades” of a coquettish lady.

Similarly, in the Pärt, he provided some background to the story which inspired the work and created this atmosphere in his performance of the work.

It is clear that Duigan enjoys the Latin genre. This was clear in his performance of the Nazareth. One almost senses that this is the idiom with which he is most comfortable. His right-hand had a nice legerrio touch and he coped well with the tricky cross-rhythms between the hands. There was also a pleasing contrast of dynamics.

In the Beethoven, his true talent came to the fore. He demonstrated his incredible agility and accuracy, particularly in his octave work. The performance conveyed the bustling optimism which he identified in Beethoven’s music in his introduction to the work.

In the Chopin, his right-hand was surreal and sung above with a semi-detached touch. In this work, he also demonstrated his great physical strength.

In the Scarlatti, he displayed a suitably light touch.

This same softness of touch was also evident in the Rachmaninoff, particularly in the right-hand.

This same cultivated tone quality also manifested in the Einaudi.

In the Mariano, as with the other Latin works, one sensed that this was his idiom. He displayed good independence of the hands.

In the piano-guitar collaboration, which comprised the second half of the concert, one sensed that Grace is a seasoned, international musician with the sort of finesse which comes from being pitted against the world’s best.

In the Malats, he displayed a small but highly intricate sound. In the Granados, he created a more introspective mood. In the Bonfá, both the piano and guitar assumed melodic and accompanying roles. The mood was reflective and there were some beautiful chords in the guitar along with a melody which rung out. In the Cardosa, the guitar demonstrated robust harmonies and chords and this was complemented by the piano’s perfection of tone.

The Sting was the highlight of the concert. It was a number to which everybody could relate and which elicited a feel-good response.

The Prelude Performer, Nathan Govender (piano), provided a pleasing start to the concert. He performed Film Noir by Michael Cornick; Oscar’s Bogaloo by Charles Beale; I’m Beginning to See the Light by James, Ellington, Hodges, George and That Monday Morning Feeling by Roland Perrin. Govender’s level-headed and unassuming manner endeared himself to the audience. He displayed a sensitive, responsive touch and a natural feel for the jazz idiom. In the Cornick, he maintained a good meter and demonstrated both strength and control. One felt that he was fully a part of the music and displayed good positive playing. In the Beale, there was careful attention to melody and the meter was ever-present. In the James, Ellington, Hodges, George, he demonstrated his ability to vary the dynamics and he coped well with the cross-rhythms between the hands. In the Perrin, he revealed his flexibility as a performer, playing in a more laid-back fashion. One felt that throughout, he clearly enjoyed the music and was focused on the underlying goal of bringing across a strong pulse together with stylized gestures of sound.  – Dr Martin Goldstein