By Lee Howard, Day staff writer | March 30, 2019
Old Lyme — Musical Masterworks has become one of the premier presenters in New England of top-flight musicians taking on daring pieces in an acoustically stunning venue, and on Saturday the young guitar virtuoso Colin Davin became the latest to make his name known among local audiences.
Davin has performed in some of the finest music venues in the world, including Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall, but there he was Saturday playing his heart out at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.
“I have always wanted to hear the classical guitar in this magnificent, magical place,” Masterworks musical director Edward Arron said in introducing Davin as a good pal whom he met just last year during the Maui Music Festival they both attended.
It seems that all of Arron’s good friends can play a little bit, not the least of whom was the other star of the night, besides cellist Arron himself, the fabulous violinist Tessa Lark. It was Lark who just a week previously had wowed an audience at the Garde Arts Center with a bravura performance of a rarely heard violin concerto, so this was a highly anticipated performance, with about 200 attending.
And they weren’t disappointed. Davin was scintillating in his two solo turns, starting the evening with Bach’s lively Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-flat Minor, which brought out the mastery of Baroque counterpoint, and toward the end of the evening changing up the announced program by taking on Leo Brouwer’s “El decameron negro,” a tour de force based on African folk tales that Davin dedicated to the still-living, Cuban-born composer in the 80th year of his birth.
Indeed, the concert was full of such surprises, with a piece by 18th century composer Georg Philipp Telemann, for instance, squeezed in between the 20th century’s Heitor Villa-Lobos and Manuel de Falla.
“Today’s program is really about the Old World and the New World,” Arron explained.
The Brazilian composer Villa-Lobos’ piece, an aria from Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 for guitar and cello, was a particular find, with its sensuous, extended melody carried beautifully on the cello by Arron. And the rarely played Telemann, Fantasia No. 1 in B-flat Major for solo violin, proved highly entertaining with its very fast lines played for all their haunting intensity by the ever-expressive Lark.
The first half of the concert concluded with de Falla’s “Suite Popular Espanola” for violin and guitar, a six-section piece transcribed from the original score for voice and piano. This proved to be one of the most beautiful of the evening, with Lark and Davin showing perfect chemistry as each took the lead depending on the mood of the movements, which dealt with different aspects of love, including the roller coaster fourth section that swept the musicians away with vengeance and betrayal.
Davin was mesmerizing with his ability to make the guitar sound both harsh and harplike, his fingers delicately plucking the strings or strumming aggressively.
The duo came together again at the concert’s conclusion for the fiery “Histoire du Tango” by Argentina-born Astor Piazzolla, another 20th century South American composer on the program. Here, Lark and Davin again were extraordinary as they showed off every aspect of their instruments, including using the guitar as a drum and turning the violin into a nasty-sounding percussion instrument. The passionate tango music, played from four different times in history, could make Lark sway in her long floral dress like a dancer at times or bring out a more aggressive, brutal side that she played with gusto.