in performance: fabio mittino and bert lams

fabio mittino and bert lams. photo by danny nguyen.

fabio mittino and bert lams. photo by danny nguyen.

One might understandably picture a packed but still very intimate Frankfort coffeehouse as one of the last places to experience the music of the Russian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff. Then again, Gurdjieff compositions – essentially remembrances and reimaginings of European and Middle Eastern folk and liturgical works – aren’t standard fare anywhere. But as presented last night by Italian guitarist Fabio Mittino and his Belgian-born teacher Bert Lams at the Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe, Gurdjieff’s songs – and those composed by protégé Thomas de Hartmann – were presented as a series of snapshots that represented varying aspects of dance, spiritualism and, quite often, humor.

Making this concert all the more distinct was the fact that Gurdjieff’s music, when it is performed at all, is vanquished to the instrument it was composed for – piano. In the hands of Mittino and Lams, who arranged the music’s deceptively sparse and spacious melodies for guitar, these tunes were folkish miniatures – quiet, reflective bursts of acoustic music that seldom drifted past the three minute mark. As such, the duo packed 19 songs into a set that ran just over an hour. But efficiency proved one the more appealing aspects of this music. Melodies would capture an ancient ambience, a bit of Eastern intrigue or a rich spiritual cast with remarkable accessibility and then vanish.

The show opening Mazurka, for instance, was built around a spring-like melody spearheaded by Mittino that indulged in a delicate, dance-like setting for about 90 seconds and then was done. The Eastern European dance cast of Song of the Fisherwoman and its more mischievous musical cousin Mamasha barely clocked in at a minute in length, yet their senses of expression sounded remarkably complete.

The two broke away from the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann canon only briefly during a quick encore segment. There, Mittino indulged in a quiet but richly harmonic original tune, In the City of K, while Lams reaffirmed his stance as a classical scholar with an unhurried and unassumingly confident reading of Bach’s Prelude from Cellosuite.

The bulk of the program, though, set its compass to a different land altogether, to music of quiet, exotic serenity. What a lovely sound to set against the dead of winter.

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