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Withers goes it alone, wonderfully

Guitarist Matt Withers performs at the Wesley Music Centre. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / “Starwalker”, guitar recital by Matt Withers. At Wesley Music Centre, December 3. Reviewed by DANTE COSTA.

THE anticipated album launch of “Starwalker” by pianist Sally Whitwell and guitarist Matt Withers was put on hold as Whitwell had to suddenly withdraw from the concert leaving Withers to perform a solo recital.

Having recently completed a whirlwind national tour, Withers fortunately had a wonderful program full of solo guitar works up his sleeve from his earlier album “Songs of Yesterday” and was more than happy to put on a show for the eager audience.

Opening with “Felicidade” by Antônio Carlos Jobim and arranged by Roland Dyens, Withers’ warm and felicitous sound instantly illuminated the room.

The following pieces “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Francisco Tárrega and “Cavatina” arranged by John Williams allowed Withers to display his long lyrical phrasing, which went on undisturbed, even despite a thunderous burst of lightning from a storm outside that had some unexpecting audience members briefly jumping out of their seats.

Continuing on from this, “Prelude from Cello Suite No.1” by JS Bach was played gracefully with careful attention it’s the elaborate inner workings. The harmonies within this piece are often overlooked and sometimes played too romantically, but Withers’ playing brought out the complex polyphony offering a refreshing interpretation of an old classic.

From “Bach to the Beatles and everything in between”, Withers described this program as being testament to how versatile the guitar is as a solo instrument and how it could “cross over musical worlds”. The next part of the program, filled with delightful arrangements spoke (or rather “strummed”) true to this statement.

This included colourful pieces by the late Australian composer Philip Houghton, as well as arrangements of Beatles and Don McLean songs.

In particular was a stunning rendition of “Yesterday” arranged by Toru Takemitsu that Withers performed wonderfully.  Three touching arrangements of Irish folk tunes all arranged by Steve Marsh – “The Harp that Once”, “From Clare to Here” and “Will You Go, Lassie Go” – displayed yet again Withers’ ability and compelling technical demand of his instrument, drawing soulful crescendos from his guitar that laced the air with sweet lyrical melodies.

This was contrasted extraordinarily with a light-hearted and humorous tango piece titled “Tango en Skaï” which had flourishes of lively triplet figures and crisp harmonics.

Sally Greenaway joins Matt Withers for the encore of his solo performance. Photo: Peter Hislop

Concluding the concert with special guest Sally Greenaway on piano, the duo performed an encore of “Poem III”, which Greenaway had composed for Withers and Whitwell. It was a delightful, well-considered piece that did not compromise the balance of the piano and guitar yet reached magnificent dynamic contrasts and stunning phrasing that drew the piece to a fine conclusion.

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