Reviewed by Duane D. Morse
The Kupiński Guitar Duo covered a lot of ground in their January 18, 2014 concert for the John E. Marlow Guitar Series, presenting a program that ranged from a Rossini operatic overture and three Chopin piano mazurkas to contemporary works for guitar by Sergio Assad and Dušan Bogdanović. The guitarists, Ewa Jabłczyńska and Dariusz Kupiński, played flowing melodies and harmonies that moved back and forth between the two instruments and rose and fell with such perfect synchronization and breathiness that they almost seemed to be a single performer.
The program showcased the possibilities – and limitations — of the guitar-duo format. Their arrangement of Asturias brought out both the intensity and sweetness of the piano original without seeming rushed, as most solo guitar performances do. The Overture from Rossini’s opera La Gazza Ladra, which began with Jabłczyńska mimicking a snare drum on her guitar’s bass strings, was a surprisingly satisfying rendition of a piece originally written for an entire orchestra. But the Chopin mazurkas, although pleasant and well played on the guitar, could not quite capture the tonal coloration and dynamic range of the piano originals.
The highlight of the concert was Cenas Brasileiras, by the Brazilian guitarist and composer Sergio Assad. Drawing on the full range of musical influences that infuse modern Brazilian music, the piece challenged both the performers and the audience with cascading virtuosic runs and shifting harmonies that repeatedly danced along the edge of atonality before returning to more familiar and accessible terrain. Both members of the duo played flawlessly and seamlessly, but Dariusz Kupiński’s fluid technique was simply dazzling.
The second half of the concert featured a series of Spanish piano pieces by Enrique Granados and Manuel de Falla, most of which were arranged for guitar duo by Kupiński. Surprisingly, the duo chose to close the concert not with a guaranteed crowd pleaser, but with Sonata Fantasia, by Dušan Bogdanović, a largely atonal piece that demands the full attention of the listener and therefore typically would be played immediately after the intermission. That the piece received a standing ovation is a testament both to the quality of the duo’s performance and to the sophistication of the Marlow Series audience that heard and appreciated it.