Local guitarist offers rare music

On Sunday afternoon, classical guitar performer Gianni Donati held a concert at the First Congregational Church. Donati was raised in Williamstown and subsequently studied musical composition at Amherst and Brandeis. Sunday’s concert was a low-key, intimate affair with many of his family and friends in attendance, including several that he had played music with in high school and not seen in thirty years. An informal reception followed the concert and many stayed to congratulate Donati.

The stylistic range of the concert was relatively broad, including a song composed in the Bach tradition, a pavane written during the Spanish Renaissance and a contemporary piece by an American composer. In addition, several songs contained the free-flowing elements of jazz and the suavity of bossa nova, a style of Brazilian music. The brief waltz that opened the concert, Se Ela Preguntar, was a piece moving with such sensual slowness that it conjured up images of smoky evenings, an impromptu tango traced out on the cracks of a pavement in Buenos Aries and the quiet smoldering of desire – an atmosphere far removed from the chilly stars and whispering winds of New England nights. On the other hand, the song that followed – Lesley’s Song, written by American composer Frederic Hand for his wife – was almost conversational in its tone and held all the tender intimacy of a love letter.

One of the unexpected treats of the concert was the performance of John Duarte’s Miniature Suite, a work of exquisite balance and delicacy that has only been recorded once. The quick, fanciful notes of “Aeolin Air” were executed with wonderful precision, and the innocence of the name “Cradle Song” belied the mysteriousness of its tone. Some of the notes in “Night Wind on the Heath” were given half of their full resonance due to Donati’s playing them closer to the bridge than at the sound hole, where the notes are at their sweetest. This technique evoked the haunting air of a cold night under a gleaming moon and quickly shifting clouds. The suite closed with “Country Dance,” a spirited piece wherein Donati’s fingers began a dance on the fret board and the notes were a glorious, exuberant jangle of sunshine and warm climes.

Following the intermission, Cinco Preludes by Argentinean composer Máximo Diego Pujol was an imaginative piece that invoked a disparate range of musical styles. It began with “Preludio Rockero,” which, true to its rock influence, featured intervals of slight discordance and brooding arpeggios. Brief passages of melodic notes followed, but they were to be broken by metallic-sounding chords and short, exclamatory notes. “Preludio Triston” and “Tristango en Vos,” which followed “Rockero,” contained the most sad and beautiful passages of the concert. Some of the notes rang hollow, like a plaintive cry of the heart. They increased in forcefulness and tempo, leading the audience to envision a dancer who tentatively sketches out the steps to a dance before immersing and finally giving herself to the whirlwind passion. “Curda Tangueada” depicted a drunken night and the opening notes recalled sorrow and heavy, unsteady feet. The repetition of a theme mimicked the uncertain circle that the drunk was stumbling in before the music suddenly broke into an enlivened, almost frantic series of notes and just as suddenly came to an abrupt end. “Candombe en Mi,” which concluded the work, was inspired by a ritual voodoo dance and evoked the stamp of bare feet on packed dirt in its staccato rhythm. “Candombe” then made an unexpected transition back to the mellowness of the tango, and the entire work ended with a percussive measure of guitar-slapping, as though given the energy of the moment Donati could not restrain his hands from that action.

The concert itself was a masterful survey of the many voices that a guitar can have, from the stateliness of classical pavanes to the rubato of the bossa nova. Aside from the effortless, nimble span and speed of Donati’s fingers on the fretboard, the variety of tonal quality that he was able to coax from the strings was also remarkable, so that at times the notes sounded as translucent and shimmering as spider webs while at others they were like bright, vibrant streaks of color that lingered in the mind long after they ceased to paint the air.