Giacomo Susani (20/04/2024)

As part of its 2024 Concert Series, the Bristol Classical Guitar Society presented composer-guitarist Giacomo Susani on the 20th of April. This concert also represented a change in our usual venue, and was the first time we held a concert in the beautiful Saint Stephens church in central Bristol.

Susani opened the programme with Sor’s well-known single-movement Sonata Op. 15. Here he displayed brilliant control, with effortless, nimble runs, wonderful tension and passion in the development, and tasteful late-classical humour in this refined performance.

Next, we heard Susani’s own composition Fantasia in Forma Lirica (Omaggio a Pasolini), commissioned in honour of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a famous Italian intellectual and poet. The work is inspired by Pasolini’s lyrical poem Poesia in forma rosa. The performance’s delicate opening harmonics soared up into the church, and Susani used the sustained acoustic of the venue to great effect throughout, with powerful rasgueados at the climax.

This was followed by a piece of profoundly different character: Marek Pasieczny’s Tate Sonata. Susani commissioned this work from Pasieczny after the two met in Poland in 2016, and the four movements are based on paintings and installations in the Tate Modern. In the first movement, Ad un tratto (“suddenly, without warning”), Susani captured the eerie atmosphere of the painting which inspired the movement, representing the moment the viewer perceives the disturbed, unsettling face of the subject. In Furioso (inspired by a painting with groups of coloured horizontal lines with sudden shifts), Susani used the colours of the guitar to excellent effect, guiding the imagination through a convincing auditory description of the painting. Ostinato is inspired by a visual installation in which the light in a room refracts through a slowly a rotating purple and yellow glass disc, which translates in the work into the sound of an insistent, constant open B string grounding a kaleidoscope of surrounding notes. The last movement,Variations and finale was inspired by a large-scale Jackson Pollock work. Vigorous splashes are represented by Bartok pizzicatos, with streaks of rasgueados, spatters of high bright notes and the plinks of strings played to the left of the fingers on the fingerboard, swirls of bass, and clusters of runs mimicking drips running down the canvas. Susani’s almost synaesthetic performance transported the listener along this rich visual experience.

After an interval, we heard Susani’s own arrangement of a short Simple Fugue in D Major by Handel – perhaps simple on the original organ, but less so on the guitar! Susani’s arrangement and performance captured the playful nature of the piece, with clear voice separation and skilful damping of strings allowing the polyphony to shine through.

Next, Susani played another of his compositions: Dialogo (Omaggio a Lauro), which was commissioned during the pandemic lockdowns for a documentary celebrating the influential Venezuelan guitarist composer Antonio Lauro. Susani uses the notes in the open, re-entrant a d f# b tuning of the Venezuelan cuatro (which Lauro played) as a recurrent unifying device. The work’s complicated structure is broadly divided into contiguous prelude, interlude and postlude sections, and is filled with nods to the Venezuelan syncopated rhythms that characterise Lauro’s famous parlour-style waltzes.

Dialogo was followed by the UK Premiere of Pierrot, or Harlequin? by Stephen Goss (Susani’s composition teacher), which Susani commissioned for the 2023 Homenaje guitar festival that he organises in his home town of Padova in Italy. The thematic material is based on the interactions of the stock characters from Venetian commedia dell’arte: Harlequin (the clever, cocky trickster) and Pierrot (his sensible, staid counterpart) compete for the affections of the flirtatious, fickle Columbine. Goss gives each character their own distinctive motif, and interleaves these throughout the piece, allowing the listener to follow the comedy as it unfolds “on stage”. Which character wins the heart of Columbine (or perhaps neither?) is left to the performer on the night in 3 possible endings. After a delightful back and forth, Pierrot won the day for us.

Susani closed the programme with his work The Blue Madeleine, dedicated to David Russell. Familiar Dreams – Arioso with its overlapping overringing harmonics and repeating circular patterns, was followed by an evocative Aria. The concert finished with the joyful last movement Cypresses, where burbling arpeggios and gusting runs remind us of wind through the trees.

This was a wonderful concert with a focus on the contemporary, inviting us to use our hearing to see and feel as well as listen. Giacomo Susani’s masterful playing made inventive use of all the guitar’s many colour devices and used the full dynamic range of the instrument to bring across these challenging works to the audience.