wit: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.
Salerno-Sonnenberg, Sérgio and Odair Assad
Savings Bank Music Hall, Feb. 8
Nadja Salerno-Sonnen-berg performed Bach’s Sonata in E
Major for Violin and Harpsichord with two guitars replacing
the keyboard, the only non- contemporary piece on the program
she and guitarists Sérgio and Odair Assad presented last Thursday
at the Troy Music Hall.
She confessed that she prefers this arrangement of the piece,
one of several arrangements on the program made by Sérgio.
One doesn’t like to question Bach’s wisdom, but he was, after
all, himself a master of multiple arrangements. And the sonority
of the two guitars—resonant classical instruments with a little
bit of amplification—sounds richer and more haunting than
harpsichord. And I say this as a harpsichord fanatic.
Not much repertory exists for this combination of instruments,
so it was an arrangement-heavy program, and certainly the
richer for it. The best arrangements not only capture the
essence of the original work but also add original thoughts,
which can be done without altering the tunes. Texture and
sonority are vital components, and what’s offered by the combo
of violin, with its versatile soprano voice, and the percussive
ring of guitar is a sound that’s at once intimate, full-bodied
and compelling. It resonates, I think, with something deep
in our collective DNA that harkens back to the fireside camps
of our antediluvian ancestors.
Which made the opening medley of Gypsy songs, written by Sérgio,
all the more appropriate. This suite of seven numbers is a
reworking of Hungarian melodies in a Bartókian vein (and bookended,
at the concert’s end, by Bartók).
Pretty Girl,” which started the suite, sports a lively violin
lead that introduced Salerno-Sonnenberg’s pleasant, gutsy
tone. It’s a sound I know well from her recordings, which
include both repertory pieces and pop-song fare. She’s a protean
player who, in this guitar-centric context, got some Grappelli
into her fingers.
Many Inns as I Can Find” is a great song title; it’s a wistful,
melancholy piece that gave Sérgio the lead voice, a voice
just a bit brighter than that of his robustly hued brother.
In “Difficult for You,” Odair took the spotlight as he maneuvered
through sinewy interactions with muted violin.
At any given time in most of the pieces, one guitar was figuring
rhythm as the other played lead; they made a robust back-and-forth
of it in Piazzolla’s “Milonga pe tre,” one of three works
on the program by that composer arranged by Sérgio for the
trio. Behind the arresting tango rhythms are tune-and-harmony
characteristics unique to the Argentinean, but informed with
the folk characteristics of his native land.
Folk characteristics were a through line of the program, with
more of the Argentine sound in dances by Ginastera—in his
case, a three-dance suite bracketed by fast, highly rhythmic
tunes that finished with intoxicating high-register fiddling
from Salerno- Sonnenberg over wicked catch-me-if-you-can guitar
virtuosity. Originally written for piano, the dances emigrated
nicely to this string ensemble.
Even the unusual suite of tunes by Charlie Chaplin, again
arranged by Sérgio, have a folkish thread. Drawing from Chaplin’s
scores for his movies Modern Times and City Lights,
the set includes his most famous song, “Smile,” and a nonsense
number from Modern Times that, following a folk process
all its own, actually is a World War I-vintage song titled
“Je cherche aprčs Titine,” later reworked by Jacques Brel.
The Assads are a relentlessly musical family, as evidenced
by a work written by Sérgio’s daughter, Clarice, based on
her own vocal improvisations and titled Three Sketches.
From the hurried chromaticism in “Ad Lib,” the first sketch,
to the boppish flavor of the closing piece, “Electrified!,”
it was an impressively accomplished work showing a unique
A product of Bartók’s folksong collecting around 1910, six
“Roumanian Folk Dances” are well known in a violin-and-piano
version, a version Salerno-Sonnenberg confessed to be weary
of. Sérgio’s arrangement not only puts those two guitars into
fantastic play, but also enhances the fiddle part with more
technical challenges, easily realized by the violinist.
Salerno-Sonnenberg introduced each piece with commentary crackling
with fiery wit, but so friendly that by the end of it we might
as well have been sitting in a living room with the trio.
And that’s what chamber music is all about.