Gismonti puts the Barbican in a trance

Last night Egberto Gismonti (pictured on the left) held a capacity-filled Barbican audience spellbound with his virtuoso guitar and piano playing. You could only describe this as being in the presence of a great maestro. Kicking the proceedings off in stirring fashion with a medley of Alegrinho and Saudagoes, the plectrist showcased melodic and mercurial runs up and down the wide fretboard of his ten-string guitar.

It was as much a display of intricately filigreed artistry as it was a musical tour of Brazil. One minute Gismonti turned the guitar into an Amazonian batuque and seconds later he sounded as if he was leading a riotous samba and choro procession around the sambodrome. In pieces like Águas Luminosas, Lundu and Escravos you could luxuriate in the sweet strains of Northeastern rhythms such as the baião, frevo and forró.

But to listen to this world-renowned Carioca – who cut a very absorbed and intense figure on stage with a trademark red headscarf and long wispy hair – one also has to factor in other influences. His oeuvre is also strongly influenced by his grounding in the European classical tradition. It is easy to trace his musical heritage and his frequent nods to Anton Webern, Andres Segovia and Erik Satie – and of course to Heitor Villa-Lobos.

When the 66-year-old Gismonti took to the piano, he wowed the crowds with his well-known compositions.

On Infância and Frevo, he transformed the eighty-eight keys of the Steinway Grand into a full orchestra, moving effortlessly from fury in the lower registers to calm and buoyant in the uppers. This was a bravura performance of the kind associated with Keith Jarrett’s Sun Bear or Koln concerts.

Preceding Gismonti was Ralph Towner (pictured on the right), another equally gifted master of classical guitar and piano. Towner’s memorable set included a brace of originals and jazz standards such as The Prowler, Jamaica Stopover and Nardis. His interpretation of Charles Mingus’s Goodbye Porkpie Hat on 12-string guitar was particularly impressive and well-received.

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