ALBANY — Thai guitarist Ekachai Jearakul gave a recital Sunday evening at The College of Saint Rose’s Massry Center for the Arts as the first Asian to win the Guitar Foundation of America International Concert Artist Competition.
As the 2014 winner, this concert was toward the end of his 50-city North and South American tour.
There’s no denying Jearakul’s expertise. Technically, he can play anything. A very disciplined performer, his light, agile and efficient fingerwork could be amazing and he certainly knows how to turn a phrase.
But rather than try to impress Sunday’s crowd with splashy fireworks, he chose repertoire that allowed him to create a mood. There were a couple of movements or passages here and there that let the audience dig in, but even in those moments Jearakul was looking ahead. He liked to plumb the depth of a phrase to pluck every nuance, dynamic shift or style change. Silences lingered.
Most of his program came from his latest disc, “Ekachai Jearakul” (Naxos, 2015). He began with Leo Brouwer’s “Rito de los Orisha.” A slow starter of a piece, there were some strong arpeggiated figures and melodies with undulating support until a few speedy sections showed off Jearakul’s technique. Luigi Legnani’s “Fantasie, Op. 19” began with a slow introduction, which Jearakul took his time with, before virtuosic displays caught the audience’s attention. Perfect double stops, extensive chord work, and a beautifully sung melody with plenty of supporting notes made for a superb reading.
Joaquin Turina’s Sonata started out dramatically then retreated into a languorous mood. The second movement was tuneful and introspective but the third had all the fire of fleet fingers and exciting strumming. The audience especially liked these last two pieces.
Two lovely lullabye-like tunes written by the King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, which had been arranged into “H.M.King Suite,” were well sung and appreciated for their peaceful contrast. Stephen Boss’ “Sonata Capriccioso” (2015), which was dedicated to Jearakul, capitalized on the guitarist’s great fingers, feel for a melody, and ability to make a musical impression. The three movements had a popish funky rhythm, filigreed melodies and great technical demands. Johann Mertz’s “Concertino” flew with a vivacious energy in which Jearakul did everything right.
After a standing ovation, he played Agustin Barrios’ haunting “Julia Florida” with a slower tempo, which made his deeply felt musicality especially effective.