It only took a few notes from guitarist Vladimir Gorbach Saturday night at the Massry Center for the Arts for the large crowd to know it was in for a special evening.
The 32-year-old Russian, who has won numerous awards, is on a six month tour as the winner of the 2011 Guitar Foundation of America competition.
Gorbach is an exceptional player. It’s not just because he has a virtuosic and clear technique, lovely musical phrasing and showed great versatility in the range of pieces he programmed. Rather, he has a connectedness to his instrument that makes every phrase seem like a conversation. It’s obvious he’s spent countless hours with his guitar. There’s an intimacy that only that kind of time can bring to a player and convey to a listener. It made for quite a show, especially since his face radiates what he feels.
Of interest to guitarists is that Gorbach uses a device that holds the guitar and is placed on his left thigh. It allows him an easier seated posture and freer sound.
He played his entire program from memory and began with Mauro Giuliani’s Rondoletto. Lovely phrasing, a playful mood, light fingers, delicate nuances and an effortless manner were highlights. This was followed by three of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas, probably arranged from his keyboard works.
These were played with great élan, strong pulses and for the two faster sonatas with streams of fast picked scales — all done brilliantly. The slower second sonata was well sung with thoughtful, exquisite phrasing.
Gorbach told the crowd in fluent English that Vicente Asencio’s Suite “Collectici Intim” was written in the 1960s and was inspired by traditional Spanish and Catalan rhythms. Each of the five sections had their own flavor and Gorbach easily conveyed these. He took his time in the slower sections to create atmosphere and was vibrant and exuberant in the faster sections. Everything was very polished and flawless. The crowd enthusiastically applauded.
Dionisio Aguado’s Andante and Rondo in A minor was familiar with its beautiful slow melody and charming faster section that flowed. Gorbach got inside the music to make it his own.
Gorbach showed lots of style in arrangements of three sections from Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons,” which were originally for Piazzolla’s quintet. Gorbach played the opening bandoneon line with very fast, strong statements before evolving into the inner slow and seductive tango. He got a different sound from his guitar: hard-edged, brighter and more metallic and louder. He stretched his phrases for all the tangos, even to slapping his guitar, using glissandos and bending a string. Great stuff.
Miguel Llobet’s “El Mestre” was a sweet song and his “Variations on a Folk Song” showed off even more guitar techniques: only using his left hand, harmonics, tunes with lots of undulations under a melody or fast strumming.
The crowd jumped to its feet, and Gorbach with a big smile sat down to give an encore: Benvenuto Terzi’s “Guitar Study.” It sounded like sweet tinkling bells.
The next concert on the series is March 10 with the Russian duo pianists Andrey Ponochevny and Elena Zyl.