The Assad Brothers: Getting Along with Lots of Help from Friends

Sérgio and Odair Assad [photo (c) Fadi Kheir]

Sérgio and Odair Assad [photo (c) Fadi Kheir]

When classical guitarists Sérgio and Odair Assad visited SummerFest in 2011, they brought with them a program of Latin American music that proved a welcome contrast to the festival’s customary Eurocentric repertory. Wednesday’s (August 20) eclectic concert by the Assad Brothers also offered a generous helping of Latin American music, but side trips to a Charlie Chaplin medley, Aaron Copland’s folksy “Hoe-Down,” and Chick Corea’s jazzy “No Mystery” diluted their focus.

Jennifer Johnson Cano’s traversal of Manuel de Falla’s monumental song cycle Siete canciones populares españolas  accompanied by the two guitars at long last brought La Jolla Music Society audiences the composer’s actual songs, which we heard transcribed for trumpet earlier in SummerFest 2014 and transcribed for cello this spring. Although this performance also involved transcription—de Falla originally called for piano and voice—since de Falla regularly requires the pianist to imitate the idiom of the guitar, this transcription could actually be deemed an improvement.

The Assads provided a warm, idiomatic and strategically accented launch for Cano’s liquid vocal line as she moved from the rage of “Polo” and “Jota” to the caressing protection of “Nana” and the mournful reflection of “Asturiana.” Having heard her moving Haydn solo cantata the previous night and last week’s Howard Shore song cycle premiere, I was expecting a more probing account of these songs from Cano. Perhaps she had too much on her plate, because I missed the acidic undertone in “Seguidilla murciana” and the depth of despair within the lyrical outlines of “Canción.” Still, it was the evening’s highlight.

Two larger ensemble works from Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, “Invierno” and “Verano” (“Winter” and “Summer”) also brought weight to the Assads’ program. In “Winter” the subtle alternation of the delicate strings of the Omer Quartet with the duo guitarists added to its gravitas; clarinetist John Bruce Yeh and first violinist Mason Yu offered apt seasonal melancholy in their solos. Finding its stride in the driving tangos of “Summer,” the ensemble achieved the urgency that was missing in much of its program.[php snippet=2]

Sérgio Assad’s medley of songs by Charlie Chaplin opened with his most famous tune “Smile,” then wandered about several much lesser known songs. Like the medley of popular songs by the revered Brazilian guitarist-composer Anibal Sardinha Garoto, this Chaplin medley overstayed its welcome. In Piazzolla’s “Milonga” (the milonga is a first cousin to the Argentine tango), violinist Andrew Wan offered seductive themes while the guitarists pressed the composer’s dark harmonies and arresting countermelodies.

For Chick Corea’s“ No Mystery,” the Omer Quartet’s sleek lines and gentle timbre proved most persuasive, along with the Assads’ delicate articulations. They did for Corea what Kronos did for Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze.” Although Copland’s “Hoe-Down” received an enthusiastic reading by the full ensemble of the Assads, the Omer Quartet, clarinetist Yeh and flutist Catherine Ransom Karoly, it was too cute for its own good. Perhaps it should have been the encore.

Assad Brothers Program

1 A B C D E G I J L M N O P Q R S T U W
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