An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. It is corrected here.

Assad brothers play with versatility at Dumbarton Oaks Museum

The celebrated guitar duo of Sergio and Odair Assad, Brazilian-born brothers, has won multiple Latin Grammys and performed and recorded with Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Gidon Kremer.

The Assads’ versatility was on full display at the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Sunday and Monday performances of music ranging from the early 18th century to a piece of their own, paying homage to their Arabic heritage.

(Fadi Kheir) - Brazil-born guitarists Sergio, right, and Odair Assad.

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Growing up together and studying with the same teacher did not result in clones; the brothers are very different players.

Sergio (who does most of their arrangements and is a composer, as well) holds the instrument in the traditional Segovia style, with a footrest, and glances only occasionally at his left hand. Odair, who plays “lead” on most numbers, has both feet on the floor, manipulates the guitar more loosely and focuses his attention on his fingering, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

As one would expect, their ensemble is virtually effortless, needing only the tiniest cues for the most complex passages.

The least successful numbers were the transcriptions of keyboard works by Scarlatti and Rameau: Uncertain tuning and indistinct ornaments were detractions, and the brothers did not fully exploit their instruments’ superior coloristic and tonal variety over the harpsichord.

But just before intermission, when they offered their own Arabic-inspired piece, with tabla-drumming and other exotic effects, the concert sprang to life.

The Assads were more relaxed in the all-Brazilian second half. Especially enjoyable was a medley of pieces by Anibal Augusto Sardinha, and their concluding number, “Tempo Feliz” by Baden Powell, a fast bossa nova. Kudos to them for memorizing a long program of ensemble music (much more difficult to retain than a solo program) and for their graceful stylings.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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