Guitar maestro, Rafael Serrallet, took the privileged invitees, assembled at Bait al Zubair for the Spanish Cultural Week, on a musical journey through Spain’s rich heritage in his exclusive performance on Wednesday evening in the Bait al Nahdah auditorium.
The recital formed the central feature in a cultural programme which opened on Monday with a superb Photographic Exhibition, ‘From Qurtuba from Cordoba’ by a group of Spanish photographers and drew to a fine conclusion on Thursday evening with a screening of an evocative and moving film, “Flamenco, Flamenco”, depicting that most iconic of dance, song and guitar forms from the Spanish region of Andalusia.
Internationally recognised and acclaimed musical ambassador of Spanish culture, the Valencian guitarist Rafael Serrallet, opened his recital with a piece from the thirteenth century — before the guitar as we know it had been developed — with “Cantigas” for Lute by Alfonso 10th ‘The Wise’ in a virtuoso exposition in unusual tuning. In fact the first half of the concert used the guitar in various unorthodox tunings with use of the capo to reflect the evolution of the guitar in Spain, from its early roots in the Low Middle Ages as a Lute to the instrument we know as the modern Classical guitar. Each piece was enhanced by illustrative projections of early lutenists or later, the composers, manuscripts and musicians themselves.
“Calalata a la Española” by the 15th century J A Dalza brought the opening melody of the English song of the same era, ‘Greensleeves’ to mind, while the 16th century “Cancion del Emperador” by L Narvaez made effective use of guitar ‘harmonics’ (lightly touching the strings to give pitches an octave higher, very softly). Moving through the 17th and 18th centuries and more re-tunings, the distinctive dance rhythms of Spain became apparent in Sanz’s “Danzas Cervantinas” and the “Contradanza de los Currutacos” by Ferrandiere.
The familiar composer Fernando Sor featured with his stylistic “Minuetto” in delightful but no less challenging vein, followed by an atmospheric tour de force in Obregon’s amazing, “Vals de Concierto, A ma Mie”.
Moving into the 20th century, the world famous and much loved composer, Manuel de Falla, was explored in his “Homenaje” from a collection of works dedicated to the memory of the great French composer, ‘Tombeau de Claude Debussy’, in front of a huge projection of Monet’s painting in tribute to Debussy. It was a more reflective, thoughtful exploration of an impressionistic sound-world by the great Spaniard, but was followed by “Danza del Fuego Fatuo” full of delicious, exciting Spanish rhythms and flamenco influences. The first half closed in retrospect to that great Spanish composer, Francisco Tarrega in the curiously entitled “Capricho Arabe” of 1892 which disclosed more Spanish than Arabic inflection.
Part two began with 3 short enigmatic pieces of the early 20th century including a lively “Fandanguillo” by Turina and “En los Trigales” by the neo-classical composer Joaquin Rodrigo which set a distinctly dance flavour for the set. Rafael told an amusing anecdote about Rodrigo scaring his grandchildren with stories of pixies and fairies, conjured up by the “Invocacion y Danza” of 1962, Serrallet’s favourite composition and rather atonal in character. It is in homage to Manuel de Falla (see photo) and makes subtle reference in turn to Falla’s homage to Debussy, El Amor Brujo and the Three Cornered Hat. The “Habanera” by Sainz de la Maza was refreshingly bitonal — a reflection of the direction in which 20th century music was travelling in Europe at the time.
Finally, the nostalgic nationalism we expect of Spanish music came in Granados’ Danza No 5, “Andaluza” and 3 movements from the famous 1918 “Suite Española No1” by piano composer, Isaac Albeniz. The Saeta, “Cadiz” was rousing and patriotic while the Serenade, subtitled “Granada” with projections of that beautiful city’s Alhambra, was based on predictably faux-Arabic scales, and the concert reached its conclusion with the most famous, “Leyenda” or “Asturias”, all transcribed for guitar. Dr Serrallet had played for nearly 2 hours, and through his inspiring interpretations, he seemed to exude the spirit — the ‘duende’ or deep soul — of this passionate and highly developed art form.