‘Schaupp has been a stalwart of this country’s guitar world for close to 40 years: in her own right as a soloist, as a concerto performer with state orchestras, and as a collaborator with musicians like Umberto Clerici and the Flinders Quartet. On Saturday evening, she presented this no-frills recital from her home with nobody else but a recording technician in the room with her. Great to see that Musica Viva has embraced the new model of mounting spartan events: one performer providing her own space and not playing too much in case of mental overload in a time of musical famine.
Schaupp’s choice of diet spanned a wide time range, opening with a brace of Scarlatti sonatas and taking in some modern classics of the guitar repertoire, with a side-step to Australian composer Richard Charlton’s Suspended in a Sunbeam, written for this performer last year. Of course, some of these pieces have become familiar from the artist’s CDs: Scarlatti’s Keyboard Sonata K. 208 (L. 238), Brahms’ Wiegenlied and Llobet’s El Noy de la Mare (the lullabies), Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios by Barrios, and Leo Brouwer’s Elogio de la Danza. These date from at least a decade ago in Schaupp’s recording career; apart from the freshly-minted Charlton piece, the program’s other unrecorded works came as no surprise: the BWV 1000 Fugue in A minor for lute by Bach, and an extra Scarlatti sonata, K 322 (L. 483), which was more successful as a guitar transcription than the other sonata by this composer performed here.
After a Musica Viva-lauding address by a ‘suit’ whom I didn’t recognize, being distracted by negotiating volume and access to scores, Schaupp began operations with one of those remembrances or salutes to indigenous land rights – a gesture that has quickly become a behavioural cliché which could even be well-intentioned but which never fails to annoy because of its tokenism. Remember those sad white people in Clifton Hill who put plaques on their houses noting that their lots really belonged to the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung, only to have some Aboriginal people knocking on doors and laying claim to those boastful houses? They were invited in for cups of tea, which says all you need to know about the depth of such acknowledgements.
Both the Scarlatti works were arranged by Schaupp herself and the ‘Adagio e cantabile‘ K. 208 made for an amiable opening with both repeats observed. My only quibble was the avoiding of the 5-note chord that ends bar 13; well, not so much an avoiding but an impossibility, given the instrument’s low operating level at that point. The faster K. 322 is better-known among keyboard players and is gifted with one of those trademark Scarlatti passages of courtly play from bar 36 to the half-way point, and again from bar 73 to the end; the harmonic transparency at these points came over with particularly gratifying clarity in Schaupp’s interpretation
Are you uncertain about the provenance of Bach’s works for lute? Join the club. Before the Early Music Brigade got under way, Segovia cruelled the authenticists’ pitch by transposing, transcribing and transliterating a good deal of Bach’s music. He didn’t leave Scarlatti untouched either, making a popularly-used guitar version of the L. 483, the second of Schaupp’s offerings.
The G minor Fugue, well-known in a violin version, is taken up a tone by most guitarists, I believe; Bach might have moved it himself, for all I know. Schaupp played a pretty clean reading with some passing glitches in bars 44 and 47 but with an otherwise sustained accuracy, reaching a well-prepared climactic point at bar 59 and onward, then realising the smothered tension of the suspensions in bars 93 and 94 before the sudden near-cadenza in the penultimate measure. Here was a measured interpretation without imposed theatrics or a resonance-besotted bass line; rather, the lines were delivered with balance and dynamic control.
Schaupp’s husband, Giac Giacomantonio, arranged the Brahms piece for her and expanded the song to three verses. No surprises here, even if the piano accompaniment’s slight syncopations did not appear to survive the move. With the arrival of its companion piece by Llobet, we entered the realm of straight guitar music, this work and what followed all original compositions. Not that there is much more to the Spanish composer’s Catalan folk-song arrangement than there is to the Brahms lied: one page divided into two halves, one work in 6/8 and the other in 3/4, both placid in emotion (as you’d expect). It was hard to determine why Schaupp seemed so anxious to get off the final D of bar 6, or why the lower notes of the thirds that end bar 5 didn’t resonate. But then, I didn’t register whether or not they appeared at the bar 7 repetition. A simple piece, but a pleasure to come across something which takes into account the instrument’s potential for colour and chord spacing.
With Brouwer’s two-movement Elogio, Schaupp jumped into a contemporary stream; even though the work dates from 1964, the Cuban composer speaks an adventurous language which takes dissonances in its stride. at odd points verging on twelve-tone writing although pedal points and the first movement’s Major 7th characteristic argues for a tendency towards a tonal centre. The executant employed plenty of rubato in the opening Lento, which is a kind of tribute to dance in its juxtaposed flashes of motion and near-stasis, the whole comprising a mobile core surrounded by pairs of ten bars showing relative quiescence.
Brouwer’s second movement obstinato deals, like the first, in gruppetti, but here much more aggressively. The entire movement hurtles forward, notably in the central Vivace in 2/4 which reaches a climax in a vehement repeated rasgueado chord before returning to the rapid, metre-changing material that began the movement, followed by a vivace coda. Schaupp displayed an excellent command of this demanding work, at ease with its many jumps in emotional and technical content, building an impressive structure in each movement while showing no hesitation in vaulting between Brouwer’s juxtapositions of the frenetic with one-line meditation.
Charlton’s work takes its inspiration from a 1994 Carl Sagan speech about the Earth and its position in the cosmos. The Australian composer subtitles his piece Thoughts on the ‘Pale Blue Dot, as photographed by Voyager 1, and he interpolates in the music a text of his own composition with two brief Sagan excerpts. Charlton gives his performer (guitarist and speaker in one, preferably, as here) leeway to pronounce the words over pauses or repeated patterns; Schaupp, the work’s dedicatee and commissioner, showed a reassuring ease with the score. A good deal of its progress is spasmodic, the accompaniment to the text tersely episodic but hard to take in because the words get in the way. Charlton inserts two passages where the speaking stops and the musical content presents as more sequential and lyrical. You come across some moving passages, as when the composer returns to lyricism after the speaker comments on the ‘cosmic dark’ of our universe, and at the work’s end where the last chords present an affirmation of our small-scale existence on the rim of infinity.
Barrios’ tremolo study seems to be a rite of passage for every aspiring guitarist but it has an underlying sweetness of melody that complements the middle fingers’ exercise work. I liked Schaupp’s interpretation which gave a necessary stress to the middle-range arpeggios – the tune, if you like – rather than belting out the bass dotted minims that open nearly every bar, or over-emphasizing the efficiency of her top tremolo. Mind you, she had given us her view of the work in a prefatory talk, finding a ‘prayer’ in this music. Which may well be the case, if only for the consolatory turn to E Major at bar 56 and he ‘Amen’ coda at bar 72. Certainly, it brought this brief recital to a satisfying conclusion: rounding out a trip from the firm benediction of a brilliantly constructed fugue to the touching vision of an old woman asking for alms – all too relevant a backdrop to this year of disasters.