Laura Snowden’s November 21, 2015, recital, sponsored by the Julian Bream Trust, was one of the highlights of the season. Bream’s charitable trust, in his own words, aims to provide “financial assistance to the less well-endowed of our young and gifted students, and especially to those whose principal instrumental interests lie in the study of the lute and guitar.” As well as offering a prestigious Wigmore Hall concert, the Trust provides funds for the commission of a new guitar work—this year it was by the composer Julian Anderson (b. 1967), composer-in-residence at Wigmore Hall.
For any young player, it would have been a daunting experience with Julian Bream and John Williams in the audience, as well as a host of “guitar people” on the British scene, such as Gilbert Biberian, Carlos Bonell, Christoph Denoth, Steve Goss, Forbes Henderson, Mark Houghton, Michael Lewin, John and Cobie Mills, Thérèse Wassily Saba, Richard Wright, and Declan Zapala.
The performance was preceded at 6 pm by an “Artists in Conversation” session between Julian Bream and Julian Anderson, with gentle reminiscences on life and the beauty of music from the great guitarist, and some discussion of the difficulties of writing for guitar from the composer.
Laura Snowden began her recital with the lyrical sounds of Sonatina by Lennox Berkeley. This is one of those pieces that sounds easy but is full of technical challenges, especially in the third movement. Snowden threaded her way through the multiple intricacies with total assurance. Frank Martin’s Quatre pièces brèves followed, receiving a fine interpretation which elicited a variety of color, sonority, and a sensitive attention to detail.
Before the intermission came the biggest challenge of the evening, Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal After John Dowland, Op. 70, a work of which Bream is the supreme maestro. Snowden came through the fire with courage and control, giving each variation refined definition and a sense of individuality. Her rendering of the theme was magical in its intensity.
After the interval came Julian Anderson’s new work, Catalan Peasant with Guitar, named after a large blue painting by Joan Miró and dedicated to Bream. The composer, in a preface to the work, commented that he has attempted “to encapsulate in sound the direct and fierce mood of the painting.” One characteristic of the piece is that at one stage the G string of the guitar is gradually retuned until it is a quarter-tone flat, the idea being that throughout the slow section “new resonances are exploited . . . by turns bell-like, meditative, lyrical, and impassioned.” Snowden embraced the work with great commitment, developing the various techniques adroitly, including such devices as imitating the Indian tanpura, rasgueados, harmonics, and a final polyphonic toccata episode with a D tuning.
A triptych of three, long-established compositions followed, Roberto Gerhard’s “Fantasía,” Manuel de Falla’s “Homenaje pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy,” and Albert Roussel’s “Segovia, Op. 29.” Again, Snowden’s performances were thoughtfully interpreted, offering variety as well as unity to the disparate trio of works. The final work on the program, Federico Mompou’s Suite Compostelana, written for Segovia, was played with a sense of poetry. The movements suited Snowden’s quietly introspective style, and she drew the audience subtly into the music with a sweet range of sonorities and well-chosen tempi. As an encore, the audience appreciated the tranquil simplicity of the “Sarabande” from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5 BWV 1011, reminiscent of the great cellist Pablo Casals, who also used to play this movement as a finale to concerts.
Snowden received rapturous applause throughout her concert at Wigmore Hall. At the time of writing it seems she has not made a commercial recording, but I look forward to her being signed by a leading label. Snowden is not only an excellent guitarist who is technically virtuosic, but also a true musician whose interpretative capabilities are profound and exciting. A brilliant international career awaits her over the coming decade.