Alchemy | Andrew Blanch & Ariel Nurhadi

alchemy at the independent1

Image by Luke Tierney

Sydney-based guitar duo Andrew Blanch and Arial Nurhadi bring their newest program Alchemy to the stage for 2019. The included pieces span the globe, coming from composers from France, Spain, Brazil, USA, Argentina, and Australia. The duo demonstrate a wide range of playing styles and tones for the classical guitar in this program, named after one of the first pieces the pair learned together from the Australian composer Phillip Houghton.

Opening with three pieces from French composers, the duo presented themselves as cool and calm players, breathing easily into the light and quick tempo of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s “Suite in E Minor”. Their rendition of Claude Debussy’s classic “Claire de Lune” was a crowd favourite with its slower pace and wider range. As the pair Blanch and Nurhadi vary in their playing style with Nurhadi remaining reserved and poised next to Blanch’s more theatrical physicality. The comparison does nothing to denigrate either as they play with beautiful consideration of each other throughout the performance.

The three Spanish pieces to follow allowed for more evocative and romantic playing. All of the pieces chosen were originally written for different collections of players and instruments but the adaptation to a guitar duo didn’t appear to shrink their emotion. “Intermezzo” by Enrique Granados introduced longer, lingering notes with Blanch maintaining a plodding forward momentum over Nurhadi’s consistent playing. Isaac Albeniz’s “Evocation” was a suspenseful number that became almost imperceptibly light and airy, demonstrating the complexity of the instruments.

“Monte Carlo” by American composer Peter Madlem changed the tone significantly with its mix of the casual feel of jazz with classical crescendos. This piece was the musical interpretation of a carefree afternoon walk: light and easy listening.

It was the second half of the concert, though, where the duo’s talents really shone. Radames Gnattali’s “Suite Retratos” was a return to the fast pace of the opening pieces but they allowed an opportunity to show-off Nurhadi’s plucking skills and his precise playing style. The final two pieces from Phillip Houghton and Astor Piazzolla were where the guitar was taken to unusual places and the audience was introduced to more contemporary styles of guitar composition.

Houghton’s “Three Duets” included the movement titled “Alchemy” which was one of the first pieces Nurhadi and Blanch started playing together and is the inspiration for this concert program. The players came together and separated throughout their playing in an electric rush which really demonstrated Houghton’s more narrative style of composition which varies between hypnotic repetition and rapid, urgent movements.

Again, the “Tango Suite” from Astor Piazzolla was a wonderful showcase of more contemporary guitar composition in its mixing of conventional romantic combinations with a marked contemporary flare, particularly in the “Allegro” movement. Here, the variation between the duo’s total synchronicity and total disparity in shifting sections was unpredictable and unusual. As the closing piece of the concert, the texture of this suite was a powerful choice to emphasise both the tonal adaptability of the guitar and the skilled playing of Blanch and Nurhadi.

Alchemy: Guitar Duets from Around the World will be touring to Canberra, Tasmania, Melbourne, and Adelaide from January 27th – March 29th. For more information check here.

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