Concerts in Review
Manhattan School of Music, New York City
November 4, 1999
By JIM TOSONE
The Augustine Imperial Guitar Series, created to showcase exceptionally gifted younger artists, opened its sixth season with guitarist Tilman Hoppstock. The series tends to attract a serious and knowledgeable guitar audience. But rather than to challenge the audience, Hoppstock’s approach to concerts is to play for fun. This was borne out by a program that featured composers like de Visée, Giuliani, Albéniz and Tárrega. Would tonight’s concert be an instance of oil and water trying to mix?
Hoppstock began the program with the Suite in Dm by French clavecinist Louis Couperin (1626-61). The works of Couperin and his contemporaries were heavily influenced by the early French lute dances. Hoppstock’s performance captured that influence through carefully delineated voices, clearly conveyed cadences and systematic use of little ornaments (agréments). Although he maintained a steady pulse with fluid phrasing in the first four movements, the gracefulness suffered in the more technically demanding passages of the final Passacaglia.
Next up was another Suite in Dm, this one written for Baroque guitar by Robert de Visée, a compatriot of Couperin. In this piece, Hoppstock avoided the pitfalls of a literal translation from Baroque to modern classical guitar. The differences between the two instruments in stringing, tuning and timbre require the performer to focus foremost on the inherent language of the music. Only then can he determine how to interpret the piece on his instrument. By using this approach, Hoppstock helped make his performance sound natural and convincing. Although the Sarabande felt rushed, the following Bourée and closing Gigue were lively and expressive.
Mauro Giuliani’s Pezzi piccoli op. div. closed the first half of the program. Hoppstock made the piece engaging through his use of dynamics, tonal color and slight asymmetries in the phrasing. Perhaps the concerns about the program were unfounded.
Unfortunately, the second half of the program did not fare nearly as well. Albéniz’s Tango was rhythmically stilted and overly bright in the upper register. Asturias seemed hurried in the middle section, robbing it of its mysterious character. The performances of Tarrega’s 5 Mazurkas were neither musically or technically noteworthy—which, given their simplicity, was disappointing. Contemporary music, which Hoppstock plays infrequently, came across no better. Brouwer’s Tarantos seemed more like a succession of snippets, achieving cohesion only toward the end of the piece.
As Hoppstock has matured, he says he feels less inclined to demonstrate his virtuosity. But he seems to have taken that notion to the point where he has not fully mastered even the relatively simple repertoire he now performs in concert. Or perhaps it is because Hoppstock plays fewer concerts these days, in contrast to his extensive touring in the mid 1980’s. In either case, with the exception of Couperin and de Visée, Hoppstock’s approach to concerts seemed inadequate for tonight’s audience.