Music review: Polish guitarist Marcin Dylla performs with power

April 14, 2013

Romanticism is alive and well, you may be glad to hear. At least, it was at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda on Saturday night, when the Polish guitarist Marcin Dylla took the pulpit for an evening of unabashedly expressive music that ranged from Franz Schubert to the modern-day Magnus Lindberg. Dylla’s a world-class virtuoso — you don’t win first prize at 19 international competitions for nothing — and the evening was a riveting display of guitar technique. But it wasn’t his pinpoint accuracy that dazzled, so much as his deeply felt, almost sensual poeticism. This was playing of almost Romantic-era passion — and it was impossible not to be moved by it.

Dylla opened the concert (the last of the season for the fine Marlow Guitar Series) with the “Sonata Romantica” by Mexican composer Manuel Maria Ponce. Written in 1928, it’s an overt homage to Schubert, full of songlike passages and quiet passions: Romanticism interpreted through cooler, 20th-century ears. Dylla (whose artful stubble and just-fell-out-of-bed hair gave him a suitably Romantic look) played it with extraordinary delicacy of touch, profound concentration and, you felt, almost starry-eyed affection.

But it was “Mano a Mano” — a thoroughly modern but, in its own way, equally Romantic work from the contemporary Finnish composer Lindberg — that proved the real heart of the evening. It’s a surging, wildly colored tour de force for the guitar, and Dylla unleashed it with a rare balance of control, passion and explosive power. If there were any doubt that music of the 21st century can be as personal and deeply expressive as that of the Romantics, it ended here.

The rest of the evening was milder by comparison: a pleasant sonata by Anton Diabelli that breezed in and out of the ears without much fuss, three songs by Schubert that were as lovely as you’d expect, and, to close the evening, the “Valses Poeticos” by Enrique Granados — a work of such captivating beauty that Dylla gracefully declined to play an encore when brought back by a standing ovation. “I want these beautiful melodies of Granados,” he told the audience, “to remain for a while in your ears.”

Brookes is a freelance writer.

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