Review/ Withers gives a winning performance in online concert

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Matt Withers in his hotel concert hall

Music / “Songs of Yesterday”, Matt Withers, classical guitar, Melbourne Guitar Festival live stream series 2020, Pacific Suites Canberra, April 17. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

MOVING the Melbourne Guitar Festival online is something that had to be done in this time of COVID-19, and fortunately for us, we can still hear and see some gigs, like Canberra-based guitarist Matt Withers performing his “Songs of Yesterday”.

Recorded in the Pacific Suites Hotel in Canberra, Matt Withers’ exceptional guitar playing was beamed out live across the world on Friday, April 7, 2020. Around 270 households watched online. Even without a live audience, Withers did not lack any of his usual musical charisma and quality playing.

Beginning with “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”, by Spanish composer Francisco Tarrega, Withers played with a brightness and magical dexterity like the music itself owns.

“Felicidade”, by Tom Jobim (arr. Roland Dyens), is one of the most joy-filled works ever written for any instrument. The sound of this ecstatic music leapt from the screen and Withers played with an exceptional brightness.

“Cavatina”, by English composer Stanley Myers, is many a classical guitarist’s go-to piece. Popularised as the theme from the movie “The Deer Hunter”, the sound of this work immediately attracts the ear. It’s the sort of piece that gets people asking, ‘who wrote that?’

The classical arrangement of “Yesterday” by Lennon/McCartney (arr. Toru Takemitsu) went down a treat. It reminded of all those yesterdays that were so different from today. The songs of Lennon and McCartney are so well-written they sing themselves, and this sensitive rendition clearly stated that this was a favourite of Withers.

“En las Sombras” (In the Shadows) by local composer Sally Greenaway was a work of many colours and rapid transitions and of great volume. It made exceptional use of the classical guitar’s specific qualities along with some guitar body slapping, which showed off the percussion skills of Withers.

Another Australian composers work followed, “Forest”, by Robert Davidson. This was inspired by an artwork from Queensland painter Sue Needham. This lyrical and quite sublime work was filled with song-like tunes and many intimate passages.

Other works played were, “Preludio de Adios”, by Alfonso Montes, “Milonga”, by Jorge Cardoso, “Blue Moon”, by Lorenz Hart / Richard Rodgers Arr. Laurindo Almeida, “Over the Rainbow”, by EY Harburg / Harold Arlen (arr. Laurindo Almeida) and to end the program, “Vincent” (Starry, Starry Night), by Don McLean (arr. Chet Atkins).

Even the writer himself Don McLean has given Withers the thumbs-up for his rendition of this special song. Withers proved that his sensitive playing of this arrangement should get the sign of approval from everyone. Then, there was an encore. A short bright Cuban dance joyfully ended the concert.

This ticketed online concert proved popular, which shows nothing can stop people from turning up for concerts regardless of the situation. And no matter what happens, COVID-19 can’t stop the music.


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