'Special Blend' presents a rare combo of classical guitar and chamber strings
Concert review

'Special Blend' presents a rare combo of classical guitar and chamber strings

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Mak Grgic

Mak Grgic 

In the perfectly intimate space of the fourth-floor ballroom of the Sheldon Concert Hall & Art Galleries on Monday night, a unique collaboration between St. Louis Classical Guitar and Chamber Music Society of St. Louis came off handsomely.

The “Special Blend” concert featured guest artist Mak Grgic on classical guitar, in his St. Louis debut, and the chamber’s strings as they performed a variety of arrangements, from old, familiar pieces by Mozart and Gabriel Fauré to more recent work by Serbian composer Miroslav Tadic.

The first half of the concert featured Grgic in solo recital. He started with Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor and made it sound as if it were composed for guitar. Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Tres Piezas Españolas” came next; Grgic gave both composers’ work proficient renderings.

Then he announced a “quasi world premier” of his adaptation of Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca.”

“I’m sure Mozart would approve,” he quipped, “as much as he liked to have fun with music.”

And this is when the real fun began. Grgic became more energetic and articulate on his instrument. The familiar Mozart tune was transformed with brisk jazzlike riffs along with rhythmic percussive moves in his right hand and chromatic runs with the left. This was a crowd pleaser, to be sure.

The final piece of the first half by Tadic, “Three Balkan Dances,” came off just as lively. “I’m from Slovenia,” Grgic said. “I’m so glad to share some of this Balkan music with you.”

The concert became a truly special blend as the chamber’s strings, all St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians, joined Grgic for the second half. Bjorn Ranheim on cello partnered with Grgic for Brazilian composer Radamés Gnattali’s Sonata for Guitar and Cello. The pizzicato exchange between cello and guitar was particularly well done. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Melodie for Guitar and Violin provided synergetic dialog between Grgic and Jessica Cheng on violin.

For Fauré’s “Pavane,” Grgic, Ranheim and Cheng were joined by Angie Smart on violin, Chris Tantillo on viola and David DeRiso on bass. Vivaldi’s Concerto for Guitar and Strings in D Major provided more opportunity for the distinctive blend of Grgic’s articulate guitar work with the well-rounded sound of the chamber’s strings. The slower second movement provided enough breathing room for Grgic to show off his contemplative side.

The night ended splendidly with Luigi Boccherini’s “Fandango” from his Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D Major. The Spanish-inspired dance piece punctuated the evening with all the exclamation, vigor and blaze expected from classical guitar, Spanish-style, complete with castanets, as Ranheim parked his cello to don a pair for that Spanish flair.

The “Special Blend” of works by composers from a variety of cultures and historical periods along with the too-rare blend of classical guitar and chamber strings provided a uniquely charming experience; let’s hope this rare collaboration won’t be the last.

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