Based on my familiarity with her three brilliantly played and thought-provoking Delos albums, I looked forward greatly to Greek guitarist Smaro Gregoriadou’s November 19th concert at the Trianon Theatre in downtown San Jose, Ca. She did not disappoint, delighting a large crowd with a wide-ranging program which left no doubt that she is emerging as a major artist. This was only her second performance in the United States – the first taking place two days before in Santa Cruz.
Appreciation for Gregoriadou’s gifts has to this point perhaps been blurred just a tad by the fact that she is carrying forward (on her CDs, at least) not only a formidable performing talent but a campaign of redefinition of the guitar’s acoustic properties and tuning parameters based on research and analysis of the modern instrument’s various forerunners. Gregoriadou has collaborated with Greek luthier Yorgos Kertsopoulos in producing a number of replicas of largely vanished instruments whose principal virtues seem to be either the further illumination of works originally composed for the lute or providing guitarists with a sharp texture that is ideally suited to transcriptions of harpsichord pieces.
Gregoriadou makes a strong case for these rethought instruments on her Delos recordings, and I was looking forward to hearing at least one of them in San Jose. But she appeared onstage with just a single instrument, a six-string in conventional tuning (which she adjusted for certain pieces) that bore Kertsopoulos’ stamp with an unusual block added to the guitar’s standard construction. By the end of the evening, however, I was glad that Gregoriadou had stuck with the one instrument, as it focused full attention on her performance by providing a consistent sonic backdrop.
The first half of the program was devoted to J.S. Bach – arrangements by Gregoriadou of the Cello Suite, BWV 1007, and the Toccata in E Minor, BWV 914. These pieces were performed with the great skill, delicacy and idiomatic insight into the Baroque that Gregoriadou displayed in the Bach and Domenico Scarlatti entries on her first two CDs. She can play this music as well as anyone, and many guitarists would be (and often are) content to shape their artistic profiles largely in this mold.
Gregoriadou, happily, has great curiosity, which is given full rein on her latest CD, El Aleph, devoted to 20th and 21st century repertoire. The second half of the program featured three works from that recording: Sean Hickey’s Tango Grotesco, Fernande Peyrot’s Preludes pour Guitare and Stepan Rak’s Temptation of the Renaissance. The pieces are dissimilar – Hickey’s an engagingly wry, post-modern take on Latin American art music, Peyrot’s a thoughtful and moody traversal of musical territory associated with the period between the two world wars, Rak’s an impressively put-together bow to Renaissance tonality and gestures. Gregoriadou gave committed performances of each, breaking the sequence once with an impassioned rendition of the famous Spanish Dance No. 1 from Falla’s La Vida Breve.
The Falla was a revelation, for reasons having to do with Gregoriadou’s unusual and disarming stage persona. She somehow manages to project simultaneously the deepest engagement with the “content” and a charming informality that — without any hint of pretension or stuffiness — suggests the audience regard her as the vessel through which the music is being poured. The performance of the Falla showed a joyful flamboyance that was echoed in her first encore, the powerful Cueva del Gato by the late Paco de Lucia. If Gregoriadou had come in with any jitters about this recital, they were quite blown away by applause. She and the audience – strangers at the start of the evening — had made a strong connection.