It may not have been exactly as advertised, but it was joy to witness all the same.
The Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society presented the duo of Carlos Barbosa-Lima and Larry Casale in a concert at the Kimbell Art Museum on Thursday that, in the preseason publicity, had been billed as “A Tribute to Mason Williams,” suggesting the program would be dominated by the works of that incredibly talented musician, who was an important part of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour back in the 1960s.
But somewhere along the way, that must have changed because Friday’s program included only one Williams tune (I think you can guess which one) and bore the title “A Classical Gas.”
So instead of introducing us to some of Williams’ lesser-known works, the pair offered a generous sampling of Latin-American pieces, a couple of works by George Gershwin and one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biggest hits.
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First, Barbosa-Lima performed solo. The Brazilian guitarist was as flawless as ever, moving easily through a handful of numbers that were, or at least sounded like, popular songs rather than more typical classical guitar fare. When he finished his opening work, Sabor a mi, by Mexican composer Alvaro Carrillo, a patron uttered a quiet “wow!” before the applause began. That performance and that reaction were emblematic of the concert as a whole.
The highlight of the opening section was a heartbreakingly gorgeous rendition of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, in an arrangement by Barbosa-Lima that has been part of his repertoire for many years now. And it is more beautiful every time he plays it.
Casale joined Barbosa-Lima for a few more numbers before intermission, with the most impressive being a fascinating rendering of Gershwin’s Prelude No. 3. The American guitarist played so tightly with Barbosa-Lima that it sounded as if the two were playing a single instrument.
The concert’s second half again featured Barbosa-Lima on his own before he was eventually reunited with Casale. Especially appealing was Aquarela do Brasil, by Ary Barroso, which we know as the popular song called simply Brazil.
The most technically interesting works of the evening were Micropiezas, a trio of extremely short tunes by contemporary Cuban composer Leo Brouwer that showcased both players at their absolute best.
The closing work was the highly anticipated Classical Gas. It was certainly not a disappointment, but it was a surprisingly low-key approach that was long on exactitude and short on aggrandizement. And if there was a tune on the program that could have benefited from some unshirted flailing, this was it. So some of the driving power of the original was missing in the duo’s version.
The only other letdown was the printed program, which was pretty much a disaster. The notes were rife with grammatical and typographical errors, including a quote from a review in a German publication (that, of course, was not placed in quotation marks) that looked like it was translated online and left as is. It was pure gibberish. Casale’s name appeared variously as Larry Del Casale and just Larry Casale. And there were numerous changes in the order and content of the concert.
But the most important thing, the music, was correct and present in abundance. Few guitarists can match Barbosa-Lima’s incredible virtuosity. But Casale certainly proved an able partner in a concert that constantly flirted with perfection without ever being sterile or clinical.