The story of two guitarists in the reviews of Worthing and Bognor

Paul Gregoire

Five Brazilian pieces – Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), Prelude No. 4; Luiz Bonfa (1922-2001), Samblamento (Samba); Annibal Augusto Sardinha ‘Garoto’ (‘The Kid’, 1915-55), Jorge do Fusa – Song; Zequinha de Abreu (1880-1935), Valsa (waltz) from Amando sobre o Mar (To love above the sea); Dilermando Reis (1916-77), Batuque (drums) from Xodo da Baina (Sweet Heart of Baina). Stephen Funk-Pearson (USA, b. 1952), Thusselgarth.

Fabio Zanon (Brazil, guitar) Evening concert at the West Sussex Guitar Club, Regis Recital Hall, Bognor Regis, Saturday June 25 (7.30 p.m.). Entirely Brazilian program. Five Popular Songs – Eraldo Pinheiro, Ao Luar (song – In The Moonlight); Armando Neves Armandinho, Choro (Song) No 2; Nicanor Teixeira, Sarabande; Marco Pereira, Bate-Coxa (thigh-drum). Francisco Mignone, Five Studies (1970) Nos 5 4 6 11 & 9. Heitor Villa-Lobos, Twelve Studies (1924-28)

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TWO WORLD CLASS guitarists in the space of three days came to give concerts in West Sussex. The first from Brighton, wearing the 1984 Andrés Segovia International Competition prize which he won at age 22, the second Brazilian based in London, adorned with the Francesco Tarrega and Guitar Foundation of America titles which he won, a few weeks from interval in 1996, when he was 30 years old.

Two men born less than five years apart, one in Sussex, the other in Brazil. And both carry a message: that hearing the Brazilian classical guitar brings a revelation beyond traditional Spanish. Add to this ‘Paraguayan’ message, on the lips of Shoreham multi-guitarist Richard Durrant, also a native of Sussex, right between Paul Gregory and Fabio Zanon, and here is a trio of modern experts – virtuosos, it goes without saying – showing where the public’s fascination with the classical guitar should be headed. Without needing an ounce of bravery.

Post-war Britain suddenly heard George Harrison’s classical guitar on the Beatles’ 1964 track And I Love Her, including a solo. And saw it in the movie A Hard Day’s Night. It was an instrumental surprise in their recorded work, with many more to come.

Thoughtful lead guitarists began including Segovia alongside Scotty Moore and Hank Marvin as favorite guitarists in the pop magazine’s bio questions. But this classic guitar was called “Spanish” by the masses of 1960s record buyers. And still is. Just this week on BBC Radio 4, U2’s Bono asked to take “a Spanish guitar” to his desert island as his luxury.

When Andre Previn helped bring new prominence to the classical guitar on TV in the 70s (including writing a guitar concerto himself), John Williams and Julian Bream became near household names, and despite Bream’s additional specialty of English Elizabethan music (the Spanish armada period . . .) his identity was seen as Spanish. Mason Williams’ 1968 hit Classical Gas made no difference.

Southern TV’s Out Of Town as a theme song helped pave the way for Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos (Recollections) of The Albambra to now become Britain’s favorite solo classical guitar track. The title could only speak of Spain. The British began to settle on the Spanish coast, in the “country of the guitar”. Unless you’ve studied guitar or listened to Radio 3 and heard Italian guitar composers, like Vivaldi, Giuliani and Castelnuovo-Tedesco, the Spanish label has remained untouched.

Fast forward to now. Paul Gregory had learned Brazilian material for his appearance at Worthing and they gave his already extensive program a fresh and exotic alluring breeze and shimmer. Then the week ended with an all-Brazilian evening by a Brazilian. There was plenty of coffee, street and beach music and ambiance in both concert atmospheres.

Like Gregory, Zanon began his program with an equally smiley selection of Brazilian romantic songs and dances, then presented two sides of the guitar study composition (Etude) – sharing with his audience five from the romantic set and narrative of Mignone from 1970, then revealing the giant Villa-Lobos in his dozen dramatic, dazzling, bewilderingly rigorous and de-romanticizing technical studies of the mid-1920s.

They are a world within a world and Zanon, whose birthday is a day after Villa-Lobos’, said he considers the 12 to be one piece. It is surely his Brazilian blood that speaks. Their scale and scope are staggering, but far from beyond European understanding and appreciation.

Spiritually, it’s not a concert hall thing – although one can imagine Gregory charming an average concert hall of people and Zanon’s Villa-Lobos igniting a few hundred guitaros and quiet but enthralled aficionados already trained to its own definitive commercial registration.

Instead, the two played in front of 50-75 people – in many ways, an ideal. Gregory was entertaining a normal cross section of people and Zanon was invigorating and inspiring probably one of the busiest guitar clubs in the country, attendance inflated by knowledgeable non-members.

In just one lunch hour listeners dispersed through a church, Gregory had generous instrumental acoustics but had to limit his verbal introductions. Zanon, his audience fanned around him in a one-third circle, had the evening to develop his pleasantly informative and mildly ironic introductions to the music.

He is 6ft 3in and is presented modestly with black pants and shoes, a conventional dark blue jacket, indigo tie with a blue gingham shirt. Also a broadcaster and professor at the Royal Academy, among the information he shared was the background of these Brazilian guitarist-songwriters.

What different worlds they came from. Pinheiro, a railway worker from Sao Paulo, learned to play from Zanon’s father. Dad then taught his son. Armandhino was a footballer with the famous club Corinthians (Zanon’s son’s favorite team; Zanon is a Sao Paulo fan) and was a guitarist collaborating with singers – but could not write music. Pereira had a classical upbringing but wanted a jazz style.

Among the specialist guitarists who wrote these Etudes, Mignone’s father was a flautist in an opera orchestra and Villa-Lobos played not only the guitar but also the piano and – like Zanon and Gregory – the cello. Villa-Lobos, we learned, led Brazil’s search for national musical identity after World War I and, like Sibelius in Finland and Grieg in Norway, he stood head and shoulders above the rest of Brazil.

Zanon told Bognor that he first played six of the Villa-Lobos studies as a teenager, followed by a band doing Led Zeppelin covers. Have Jimmy Page fans noticed the qualities of Villa-Lobos? Perhaps, as Brazilians, they inherently did. Zanon could well have caught their attention with Etudes Nos 10, 11 and 12 which contain much rawer musical elements of the culture of the peoples of the Amazonian forest that he set out to discover, thousands of kilometers from the seaside towns.

For his encore, Zanon crossed the border for Barrios’ #1 Paraguayan dance. After stepping away from the Brazilian for the first time, when he was called up for another, he took the precaution of avoiding his audience’s withdrawal symptoms by finally turning to something. Spanish. After the first movement of Torroba’s Sonatina Madrid from 1923, with its muted pizzicato and Andalusian-style melody, he took his Brazilian guitar from luthier Sergio Abreu, and finally walked away.

West Sussex Guitar Club founder Sasha Levtov has sworn to her audience that she experienced “The Soul of the Guitar”. What they tasted, in a deliciously huge portion, was the soul of Brazil. May it still become a popular staple menu.

Richard Bowen is a former student of Gregory at Eastbourne, still very much in touch with his master at Cuckfield. Bowen is in action this Wednesday July 6 midday (2pm) at St Nicholas Church, Brighton, then he follows Gregory to Christ Church, Worthing on Wednesday 27 (12.30pm).

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