By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer
Heading into Sunday evening, I pondered. No, I argued with myself. It had been a very busy past few weeks, with lots of events to cover.
There was a concert scheduled for that evening. Should I go or should I not? That was the argument.
I really yearned to stay home to relax and came close to that easier decision: to stay and not go. But something got in the way of following through. Something was telling me to go. And go I went: to Auer Hall for a recital by a guest guitarist, Rovshan Mamedkuliev.
As usual, I arrived early, took my seat, and read through the program notes. Heading my way was Ernesto Bitetti , chair of the Jacobs School of Music’s guitar department and very much involved with putting together the Seventh Indiana International Guitar Festival and Competition, a two-day affair of all things guitar-wise that was to close with Mamedkuliev’s concert.
“I’m so glad you came,” said Ernesto. “Rovshan is something special. He’s the best. You’re going to hear a wonderful recital, perhaps like nothing you’ve ever heard.” The sales pitch was turning into a rave.
“I’m glad I came, too,” I said, partially probably to be polite and partially because I was already there and, as reward, likely to hear some pleasurable guitar music.
And then, the Azerbaijan-born guitarist stepped upon the stage, bowed, took his seat at stage center, and began to play Miguel Llobet’s Variations on a Theme by Sor. The Sor theme was familiar; the variations were not. But, oh my goodness! Ernesto Bitetti’s rave was totally deserved. This Mamedkuliev fellow was remarkable; he is remarkable.
Not at all in a showy manner, he made acrobatic fingers play fancy games with his lovingly-held guitar and perform wonders, producing sounds one does not believe can possibly come from the instrument. But that he continued to do: reveal the ways a virtuoso can bring out the magic in a classical guitar. He had vistas of rural Granada to visit in Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Junto al Generalife,” a musical description of a countryside surrounding an elegant home for the kings of Granada, in relaxing territory away from their most-of-the-time normal palace life.
Born in Azerbaijan and growing up in Russia, Mamedkuliev honored those years in his life by selecting works from composers of those lands. He selected six of “Twelve Miniatures for Piano” written by Fikret Amirov that he transcribed for guitar. The tonal colors differed sharply from the Latin influence of much else that he had chosen for the program. But, as everything selected, these pieces allowed the recitalist to add important performance lessons that only an experienced and gifted guitarist can provide. He did that also with “The Old Lime Tree,” composed by the Russian Sergei Rudnev as reminiscence of his childhood, a ballad that adoringly describes a favored object from the past.
A more contemporary composition, the Sonata Number 2 for Guitar by Nikita Koshkin, dating to 2011, gave Mamedkuliev more thorny themes and developments to deal with, which he did astonishingly.
To close the concert, Mamedkuliev turned to a brilliant showpiece, “Gran jota de concierto” by Francisco Tarrega. The outflow of melodies and embellishments was stunning, indeed something to remember.
The audience roared in approval, roared like a hungry soccer crowd. And I am happy I came.