[First published 26th Jan 2012]
Richard Durrant is a local classical guitarist currently on tour promoting his album The Number 26 to Paraguay, a homage to Paraguayan composer/guitarist Augustin Barrios, or Mangoré as he’s known in his native land. The concert is more like ‘An evening with …’ than what one normally expects from a classical guitarist, as the barefooted Durrant stands up and wonders about after each tune, sharing anecdotes and snatches of the composer’s history as he introduces the next one. His between-tune persona was a cross between Gryff Rhys Jones and Alfie Moon, which seemed to tickle most of the audience.
The round at the Minerva is well-suited to this kind of show, which Durrant performed entirely acoustically, while each tune was accompanied by an impressionistic projection onto the screen behind him. The set was well-balanced, though the introduction of backing tracks in the second half, not least while he played a tune by Django Reinhardt on a Maccaferri copy made by his late father, was perhaps an error. The tracks were thick and syrupy-sounding, rather stilted rhythmically (he described his Hot Club track as sounding like it was played by three sussex farmers … which was reasonably accurate), and too loud for either his signature nylon-string or his Maccaferri. Our review seats were pretty good, but I wonder how audible his guitar was throughout the theatre – I fear that where his nylon-string’s lack of a traditional soundhole may well aid the tightness of sound and perhaps make feedback more controllable, it doesn’t help with the production of volume.
Much is made of his multimedia presentation, but I failed to see the point – the images added nothing artistically to his performance, and in themselves are nothing special. I suspect they’re there for those who need pictures along with their music. The audience was eclectic, with the two gentlemen sitting behind us quite knowledgeable, while the individual who began tapping their foot to the Django section was incapable of keeping time. Middle-class presentation for middle-class ‘theatre’ people – Durrant’s digression into the composer of Trumpton’s music showing how keenly he knows his audience.
And the music? Well, Barrios wrote some pretty good compositions, contrary to what Segovia is reported to have uttered, that he ‘couldn’t write for the guitar’ (Durrant said of Segovia that ‘meeting him was like meeting god … but he was a miserable old git …’), and Durrant did them justice. He’s a very good player. But not flawless … the stickler in me notes that he struggled with his natural harmonics all evening, dropped a couple of notes in each song, and had trouble syncing with his backing tracks. His tone sometimes lacked a real singing quality and his timing sometimes wavered. But you don’t go and see Durrant for a technically perfect performance. You go to be entertained. And if there’s one thing you can’t fault Durrant for is passion. He loves this music, and loves to play it, loves to share it. This passion comes out in every note he plays. While I appreciate a note-perfect performance, when a highly-skilled player slips up, it tells me one thing: they’re playing the music, not the instrument. And that is what we like to hear.
See also my review here