Review – Duane Morse : The Kupinski Duo

JEMGSweb_squares_KD_smThe Kupiński Guitar Duo

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.

Review – Bob Scharf : The Kupinski Duo

The Kupinski Duo. Photo: Ela Barteczko

“I just heard the third guitar concert Saturday night in a series of five sponsored by the International Conservatory of Music. The recital was a very satisfying one (and I say ‘recital’ because the performers used no music, which isn’t always the case with guitar concerts) by The Kupinski Duo (a man and wife, probably in their early 30s), from, yes, as you may have guessed, Poland. Among other pieces they performed, was the mandatory Asturías, of course. I didn’t realize that it was, as in all of Albéniz’s pieces for guitar, originally written for the piano. It makes me want to buy the sheet music at Dale’s. Albéniz himself said his compositions sounded better on the guitar. I agree. Sadly, as you know, he died at 48 of kidney disease, but at least he lived longer than Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Mozart. Carol, John Marlow’s widow, attended a dinner for the Duo Sunday evening at the Conservatory’s president’s home, Tim Healy, in Chevy Chase. The Duo also played their amazing arrangement of Rossini’s overture to his opera, La gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie). You probably don’t know it by that name, except perhaps in translation (I didn’t) but you’d recognize its several themes immediately. In a nutshell, it’s the story is about a young girl who is unjustly accused of stealing a silver fork, when, in fact, it was taken by a magpie! Of course, there are the usual romantic entanglements. Rossini was a classic procrastinator. It was reported that the producer had to lock him in a room the day before the first performance to write the overture. Rossini then threw each sheet of music out of the window to his copyists, who wrote out the full orchestral parts! The opera is no longer performed but the Overture is. I hear it on WETA (public radio), formerly WGMS. He outdid Prokofiev, who completed Peter and the Wolf the week before the performance! That’s almost like Gershwin writing the piano part to his Rhapsody in Blue and couriering it across Manhattan for Ferde Grofé to orchestrate. Gershwin learned that he was supposed to play the piece, actually a concerto, originally conceived by Paul Whiteman, as an experiment in jazz as a serious art form, just five weeks before its performance! He didn’t have time to write a concerto so Whiteman suggested something shorter. He also offered the help of Grofé, Whiteman’s arranger, and an excellent composer in his own right—witness the Grande Canyon Suite, with its famous On the Trail, the theme-song for Phillip Morris cigarettes (remember Johnny, “call for Phillip Mor—read,-ēēēēēē!). Unfortunately the Rhapsody was not performed that evening although it was on the program. Preceding the concert was the usual half-hour lecture by Larry Snitzler—always erudite and always interesting from his personal contact, fascinating stories, and friendships with some of the great guitarists and other musicians of the twentieth century—Nadia Boulanger (many musicians flocked to her studio in Paris), Julian Bream, Christopher Parkening, John Williams (the greatest of the present generation, in my estimation), and, of course, Segovia (whom I heard at Lisner—I had stage seats!—and Constitution Hall (with the NSO) in the early 60s. Larry spent a month in Europe with his wife. Forty-eight years ago, at age 21, he bought a Ramirez and, for the first time ever, parted with it while leaving it at the Ramirez shop (not the retail sales store) in Madrid for repairs. I have enjoyed extended conversations about music, particularly tidbits about 20th Century composers and pianists, which we share. They also include some personal contacts I’ve had with these artists as a stage-door Johnny when I was in my teens and twenties.” – BOB SCHARF