Setting--and raising--standards for students and public alike is part of what programs such as CSU Summer Arts is all about. Tuesday at Cal State Long Beach's Daniel Recital Hall, the guitar and lute faculty continued to do its part, with fresh, highly effective performances from Ricardo Cobo and the Newman and Oltman Guitar Duo.
Indeed, Cobo set the bar so high that despair must have been as much a part of the package as inspiration for the students in the audience. Armed with a cup of coffee as well as his guitar, Cobo strode onstage clearly ready to melt nylon and mesmerize listeners. By way of unscheduled introduction, he offered a movement from Leo Brouwer's tricky "Decameron Negro" and then delivered a pair of Astor Piazzolla tangos with rare definition and characterful nuance. No matter what the pace, the Colombian guitarist neither contorts the rhythmic spine of the music nor cheapens the colors, as he proved deftly in the fanciful Sonata that Brouwer wrote for Julian Bream.
And then he turned to display pieces. Graceful musicality was as evident as superhuman technique in an unhackneyed troika from Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, Antonio Lauro and Roland Dyens.
For the second half of the evening, Michael Newman and Laura Oltman offered the series' first ensemble installment. Having performed together for almost 20 years now, they form an assured and synergistic partnership. They, too, are able to play expressively at speed, as they demonstrated with the motor energies of "Horo," by the young Bulgarian composer Atanas Ourkouzounov. Dusan Bogdanovic's rhythmically punchy Sonata Fantasia, also Balkan folk-inspired, gave them greater opportunity to display their interpretive prowess.
Their loving arrangements brought a measure of revivification to five Isaac Albeniz staples, although the rubato-laden performances often bordered on over-interpretation. In encore the duo offered a sprightly account of John Dowland's four-hands, one-instrument novelty "My Lord Chamberlain, His Galliard."