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Review: Paul Galbraith at Lobero Theatre

New Arrangements of Bach and Mozart Premiered on May 8


Lovers of pizzicato purity and guitar geeks turned out Thursday for a solo recital by Scotsman Paul Galbraith, the first (and only classical) installment in the Lobero Theatre’s Guitar MAY-nia series, which continues this week with bluesman Keb’ Mo’ and jazzman Bill Frisell. Many classical guitarists work their own arrangements for the instrument to improve fingering, individualize nuance, or more faithfully capture a piano reduction. Galbraith went way beyond 20 years ago, radically redesigning the instrument itself. Two streams of influence begot this revolution: a desire to increase the guitar’s range while working on a Brahms reduction and the repositioning of the guitar in an upright condition to liberate right arm motion. The result is the eight-string “Brahms guitar,” played in an upright position like a cello with the headstock positioned over the left shoulder, and the instrument supported by a long end-pin. The extended bass-range is further enhanced with a resonator box on the floor underneath the pin (think of concert basses vibrating the wood stage floor by the same principle).

This West Coast premiere of Galbraith’s arrangements of works by Bach and Mozart opened with a pair of allemandes run together like a single work. The main theme in the Mozart excerpt from Baroque Suite, K. 399 was almost certainly inspired by the parallel movement in Bach’s first Lute Suite, BWV 996, and it is Galbraith’s genius to combine them. Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 17, K. 570 really showcases the broad voicing capabilities of Galbraith’s instrument. The adagio was breathtaking in its spacious pulse, one theme taking on a quasi–Middle Eastern aroma when rendered on guitar. Finally, Galbraith stacked together two favorites for guitar — Bach’s Cello Suites No. 5 and No. 1. These 12 movements (streamlined without repeats) ran from complex emotions to pure sunlight and play by closing gigue.

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