Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review: LA Guitar Quartet

with Philip Proctor, narrator
Nov. 9, University of Richmond

"The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote," in which the LA Guitar Quartet plays music of 15th- and 16th-century Spain to accompany a reading of Cervantes’ classic tale, must have seemed an inspired idea when the foursome hatched the project with Monty Python alumnus John Cleese a couple of years ago; and by all accounts, its premiere in March was a great success.

This tour performance, however, was a frustrating pileup of words and music. The quartet's playing and the narration, by the Firesign Theatre’s Philip Proctor, were amplified at volume levels that gave precedence to neither. From my balcony seat, the guitars were too loud for Proctor to be heard clearly, and the music ran interference through a steady stream of words.

Proctor was an engaging storyteller, full of character in his voicings of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and the unwilling participants in their misadventures. Props and projected illustrations added theatricality to the production. Edith Grossman's translation is in decorous but generally vernacular modern English, and was well-condensed for this concert presentation. The LAGQ’s William Kanengiser, drawing on advice from a group of early music specialists, assembled a period-authentic and nicely atmospheric set of pieces to accompany the narration.

But the show didn’t come together this time in this place. Camp Concert Hall at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center is a brightly resonant space in which sound amplification can easily be overdone. Even if it hadn’t been, Proctor’s animated and rather speedy delivery might have been hard to follow.

The four guitarists – Kanengiser, John Dearman, Matthew Greif and Scott Tennant – preceded "The Ingenious Gentleman" with two arrangements of classic Spanish-accented orchestral scores, the "Ritual Fire Dance" from Manuel de Falla’s "El amor brujo" and a suite from Georges Bizet’s "Carmen." The group convincingly projected the energy and color of these pieces, especially in moodier selections such as the Habanera and "Gypsy Dance" from "Carmen."

The LA Guitar Quartet will conduct a master class for University of Richmond students, open free to the public, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Modlin Center. Details: (804) 289-8980.