Music Reviews : Guitarist Williams Returns to Ambassador

Making the routine sound fresh and inspiring may be one of the greatest gifts for a musician. With guitarist John Williams’ first Los Angeles appearance in two years at the Ambassador Auditorium, Saturday and Sunday nights, this gift was displayed in abundance.

Williams is still a remarkable musician whose playing remains a wonder. In his hands, rapid passages flow effortlessly, melodies sing and difficult techniques seemingly become child’s play.

While his versatility finds him exploring jazz, popular music and new music, he masters traditional repertory with similar confidence and authority. Standing ovations and three encores greeted his Sunday performance of a half Baroque/half 20th-Century program that the Australian-born, English guitarist presented with low-volume amplification.

True, Williams has played the bulk of the music heard in these latest recitals many times before: his own carefully wrought transcriptions of Scarlatti Sonatas and the Chaconne from Bach’s D-minor Partita, plus some flashy pieces by Barrios. But he still commands every note with charm, every phrase without seam and every piece with intelligence.

Interspersed with the familiar offerings were a few new undertakings, highlighted by Toru Takemitsu’s “Folios” (1974). Here, Williams approached the mild dissonances, pulsating rhythms and koto-imitating stretches with delicacy and special attention to sonority.


Two Post-Modern pieces by Leo Brouwer--the overly sentimental, tonal “Berceuse” and the more virtuosic “Danza Caracteristica"--provided occasional moments of interest. “Sunburst,” by Glendale composer Andrew York, seeks a popular, new age appeal that proved a bit commercial--in the “Windham Hill” sense of the word--but provided some moments of admirable virtuosity as well.