The exceptional artistry of Azerbaijan guitarist Rovshan Mamedkuliev thrilled a large crowd Saturday night at the Massry Center for the Arts. The concert is one of 50 stops throughout North and South America for the winner of the 30th Guitar Foundation of America’s International Concert Artist Competition in 2012.
His varied program, much of it drawn from his Naxos CD (2012) and all done from memory, showed off why he won the top spot. His splendidly clear and agile technique, the showmanship and flair, and the marvelous musicianship were only a few of the evening’s highlights. Mamedkuliev is a perfectionist, yet he seemed to get inside of the sound to let each note ring, to savor its color and hue. His range of dynamics from exquisitely soft delicacy to raspy brilliance and ability to change the tone from subtle muteness to a round mellow quality to a hard-edge metallic rocker was impressive. Interestingly, he was never afraid to let silence speak.
He began with Miguel Llobet’s “Folia (Variations on a Theme of Sor).” After a solemn theme, the variations ranged from very intense fingerwork to soulful songs that he stretched out with well-arched phrases. Stepan Rak’s “Homage to Tarrega” was a seductive, sensuous ballad in which Mamedkuliev unabashedly wore his heart on his sleeve. He was like a poet of the guitar and captivated the crowd with his siren song.
In the three varied movements of Leo Brouwer’s Sonata, Mamedkuliev seemed to have four hands what with all the fiery strumming and precise fingerwork.
After intermission, Mamedkuliev surprised everyone with his fluent English to say he hadn’t spoken in the first half because the pieces were so difficult but he wanted to introduce many of the next few pieces.
Fikret Amirov of Azerbaijan wrote “Six Miniatures” that were like short stories: charming, light, some racing with many notes and others sad songs. Russian Sergey Rudnev”s “The Old Lime Tree” was very pretty with complex filigree around the theme.
American Andrew York’s “Just How Funky Are You” was the competition’s commissioned piece and put a guitarist through the paces: lots of fast two hands work, catchy rhythms, knocking, and a need for flair. Mamedkuliev played the stuffing out of it. Brouwer’s “An Idea (Passacaglia por Eli)” was a short, sad ballad. Spain’s Joaquin Turina’s “Sevillana” was a spirited gypsy number with knocking.
Mamedkuliev said Francisco Tarrega was the father of classical guitar and wrote “Gran Jota” when he was 19. The theme is famous. After a dramatic intro, the Spanish rhythms, melodies and lots of scales made for a grand finale.
The crowd jumped to its feet and hooted with delight at the encore: an arrangement of Manuel deFalla’s Spanish Dance for orchestra, which Mamedkuliev played with marvelous flair and a flavorful Spanish sensibility.