Review / Dr Kunda, an up-and-coming star

music “In the Woods” Bradley Kunda At Wesley Music Centre, June 14. Review by Clinton White  

Bradley Kunda

BRADLEY Kunda is well-known to Canberra audiences. Born in Adelaide, the now multi-award-winning classical guitarist studied at the ANU School of Music under Timothy Kain, who remains Kunda’s mentor.

He has performed in solo and ensemble settings, and probably is best known as the duo partner to Matt Withers in the Brew Guitar Duo.

Now sporting a “Dr” in front of his name, this concert, along with the launch of his debut solo CD, “in the Woods”, takes Kunda’s career to a new level.

The concert opened with “Five Preludes” by Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, from 1940. It also features on the recording. Kunda said the pieces were not complex and were easy technically. But his description belied the music.

Each piece, written in homage to different themes, requires a great deal of expression and control, featuring in particular accented melodies in chorus with muted strummed chords underneath. For me, the fourth prelude, for the Brazilian Indians, was the pick of the five; a quiet, evocative, sometimes mournful work, featuring perfectly executed soft-plucked notes played on lightly-touched open strings, producing distant harmonics.

Also theme-based were the three selections from “24 Caprichos de Goya” by Italian composer, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, also on the new release CD. Written in 1961, the caprichos (caprices, in English) were inspired by the series of etchings, “Los Caprichos” by Spanish painter Francisco de Goya, from 1796. The playfulness of a caprice belies how Goya described his series, selecting his subject matter, as he says, from “the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society.” Kunda presented the playful foibles beautifully, capturing the composer’s intent for each piece, leaving the audience to contemplate how Goya might have represented, for example, the work “God forgive her; and it was her mother”.

After interval, Kunda departed from the program on the CD in favour of works featuring two special guests.

The first was a sonata in three movements by Franz Schubert, written for piano and arpeggione, a mid-19th century instrument that is a kind of fusion of a cello and a guitar – a low-pitched bowed instrument with six strings (tuned like a guitar) and frets, which enjoyed only a short vogue before disappearing altogether. Kunda co-arranged the work for guitar accompaniment to the way-too-little-heard viola. The guitar was a replica of an 1840s Viennese instrument. It had a more mellow sound than the modern guitar he used earlier, especially in the middle movement, in which it sounded muted as well.

As would be expected from Schubert’s pen, this was a charming work and John Gould’s viola lent itself well to the moods of the piece. At times though, especially in the passages where the tempo was fast, the viola lost clarity and I often found myself wanting it to pitch a little higher to match the pitch of the guitar. Nonetheless, the viola’s beautiful, warm sound was a pleasure to hear and Gould’s expressive and heart-felt playing certainly was not lost on the appreciative audience.

Closing the program was Kunda’s arrangement of “Five Greek Folksongs” by the French composer, Maurice Ravel, and featuring soprano Rebecca MacCallion. Considering Ravel did not write for guitar, composing this work for piano accompaniment, Kunda has done a truly marvellous job in the transcription. His writing and playing produced some very piano-like sounds while remaining true to the nuances of the guitar.

MacCallion did a very fine job, too, singing to sometimes quite abstract accompaniment and achieving the many moods created in the five songs with considerable assuredness.

I bought a copy of “In the Woods” and already have enjoyed at home the highly sensitive and expressive playing of Dr Bradley Kunda, one of the world’s up-and-coming stars of the classical guitar.

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