To be a flamenco guitarist one must have extraordinary technique, a flair for the flamboyant and, as legend has it, some trace of Gypsy blood. The ageless Carlos Montoya fits this bill to the letter. His recital last night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall reaffirmed what he first proved almost 40 years ago: that fiery flamenco guitar playing enthralls as it warms an audience.
Flamenco music had been passed down from the Spanish Gypsies only by strum of string until Montoya devised written arrangements. Yet, like his predecessors, he never performs a piece exactly the same way twice, opting for different colorful effects each time to give his art a semi-improvisational quality. Hammer-on phrases with the left hand, blistering runs and percussive strumming are but a few of the flamenco touches.
In 17 selections spread over three sets, Montoya used these razzle-dazzle devices convincingly, if somewhat predictably. He also revealed many times over how the flamenco guitar style -- once used only to accompany a singer or dancer -- is much more rhythmic than melodic. Thus his zapateao echoed the clicking of heels; the Moorish-influenced zambra duplicated dancing girls' tambourines by tapping out a string accompaniment.
Among those few pieces where rhythm played a subsidiary role, the nana del gitanito, or little Gypsy's lullaby, stood out for its purity of line, and the manner in which Montoya subtly embellished it with octaves. His understatement was deafening.