[MUSIC & DANCE/Flamenco ~ SA]
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, Fri 9 Jul.
COVID-19 has once again departed SA just in time for us to sneak in another festival, and an eager capacity crowd gathered in the Dunstan Playhouse for The Andalusian Guitar: Paco Lara; supported by Adelaide’s own Flamenco troupe, Compañía Alma Flamenca. Inability to travel at present means such opportunities to delve deep into other cultures are even more precious.
The flamenco phenomenon is such an emphatic cultural experience. The symbiotic relationship between musicians and dancers is dramatic and enthralling. Compañía Alma Flamenca’s dancers portrayed a mix of passion and control as they twirled and tapped their feet in time to the live music. Rhythms are complex and involve much hand clapping and use of the cajon, a box-like percussion instrument. A piece featuring the cajon and the tapping feet of a dancer mimicking each other was reminiscent of the tabla and singer interplay seen in classical Indian music.
Much of the flamenco vocal style was like vocal riffing – plenty of passion behind notes that seemed to slide around following a thread of emotion rather than any tone-based melody. On occasion, and not surprisingly, sounding a little like the fado singers from across the border in neighbouring Portugal.
The second and main part of the program was to feature Paco Lara and his quartet but as his group all reside in NSW…. COVID-19 said no. So Lara had to go it alone. This was mostly absolutely fine. Lara is a true guitar maestro as he conjured up a staggering palette of sounds from his instrument with ridiculous ease. There were no English introductions to any of the pieces so it was hard to know if they were flamenco classics or original works but a sweetness of tone and rich sonorous textures were just delightful to listen to.
But it can be difficult for maestros to get the balance right between virtuosity and musical clarity. I am no expert in flamenco, but after initially been blown away by Lara’s technical skill, it became a little tedious as technique and virtuosic execution detracted from the music. There was still plenty of soul and feeling there – that was obvious – but the pieces themselves were often quite frenetic and felt overplayed. However, this music was supposed to be played with his missing quartet, and it was remarkable that Paco Lara made it to the guitar festival at all. It was a great privilege to listen to this extraordinary musician.