The sleepy atmosphere of a dark, rainy afternoon proved to be an appropriate setting for a reflective solo guitar recital by Steve Robinson yesterday at the Phillips Collection.
Dowland lute songs have been known to be risky endeavors on the guitar, but Robinson succeeded in meeting the challenge with an ever-so-delicate touch. "A Fancy" was wistful and sweet, heavily steeped in Renaissance tradition.
Bach's third cello suite (BWV1009) loses much of its power when nimbly interpreted on the guitar, but an ingenious transcription reveals a new side of this work. As in most of Bach's works for solo strings, the solitary melody is always in the foreground, as multiple stops usually appear in the form of accompaniment. A movement such as the Sarabande, which is almost completely one melodic line, was transformed by Robinson from a driving emotional display into a contemplative whisper, much more suggestive than expressive. Movements that demanded more elaborate chord implications were arranged in a way that complemented the capabilities of the guitar, rather than having them sound broken and jagged, as when heard on the cello. Overall, Robinson adjusted himself to the transcription, rather than to the sound related to bowing, which was commendable.
A world premiere by Harold Schiffman titled "Rhapsody" could have been written for a variety of linear instruments, which perhaps is one of its weaknesses. The frenzied, muted melodies and module-like construction barely attempted to delve into the textural and overlapping possibilities of the instrument, which produced strenuous but shallow guitar music. The piece contained a highly academic sound, as the density of construction seemed concerned with keeping the music on an even keel.