The breadth of the repertoire running through last night’s performance by the Dublin Guitar Quartet at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville suggested something of a global sprint. The concert touched upon composers from Estonia, Hungary, Cuba and the United States. Curiously, the purely Irish entries by guitarist David Flynn (a DGQ alum) and the instrumental rock troupe The Redneck Manifesto proved to be the least indigenous sounding items in the program.
What this technically dazzling but sometimes stylistically stymied performance wound up emphasizing wasn’t so much a set of geographical references, though. Instead, it better approximated a study in how contemporary classical structures – especially minimalist and post-minimalist designs that explored interlocking, cyclical melodies and the often astonishing harmonies they created – transferred to an acoustic guitar group.
Two fine examples were a pair of abridged Philip Glass string quartets – two movements from Company and another three from the sublime (and, given its absence of mention in the program notes, unplanned) Mishima. Both wonderfully captured the haunting lyrical splendor Glass weaves out of sparse, repetitive melodic variations. The quartet discovered the works’ subtle drama, too – right down to the light counterpoint that seemed to make the music float in mid air.
The Redneck Manifesto’s brief Soundscapes Over Landscapes was less intricate but just as musically involving. The quartet let the tune unravel in sheets of melodic fancy before acoustic power chords and the closing percussive slaps by three of the group’s four players on the bases of their instruments summoned the piece’s rockish but curiously non Irish sounding foundation.
From another world entirely came Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, a three part composition for 12 guitars performed last on solo electric guitar by the DGQ’s Pat Brunnock and a well orchestrated tape of accompanists. As a technical exercise, it was astonishing with Brunnock working in and around a symphony of clipped, stuttering melodies. So deft was his execution that during the first half of the 15 minute piece distinguishing the live music from the recorded accompaniment was almost impossible. That created some icy stagnancy until the criss-crossing melodies finally grew together, as they did in the more organically presented Glass pieces, allowing harmony to win out.