On Saturday evening St Peter’s Church in Kinver was full of expectant people awaiting the appearance of local guitarist Michael Christian Durrant. Outside it was chilly and more than a little breezy, but inside candles blazed aloft at the end of every pew and a warm magenta glow lit up the sandstone around the stained glass of the magnificent east window. In the chancel, the stage – purpose-built – was set.
This was no ordinary local musician. Publicity had promised us quality in the shape of “A forerunner in the new generation of classical guitarists” (BBC Radio 3), and as soon as Michael opened his performance with an arrangement of Greensleeves, we knew we were in safe and astonishingly talented hands. The familiar melody emerged from elaborate textures created by a mere six strings and I could sense a kind of delighted relaxation amongst the audience. We were in for a treat.
Communication wasn’t only through the music. Between pieces, Michael connected further with his audience by giving informal introductions in a natural and engaging style, with just enough detail to help us understand the background to his chosen repertoire. Throwing in plenty of humour – “thanks very much, Joaquín Rodrigo, for keeping classical guitarists the world over in bread and butter” – he explained his choices and signposted what to listen out for. It was a great way of keeping the audience fully absorbed and we went away not only richly entertained but also a little wiser.
There was a satisfying mix of the familiar together with some complete surprises. A classical guitar concert wouldn’t be complete without Spanish music, so we heard part of Rodrigo’s well-known Concierto de Aranjuez, and the amazingly intricate Asturias by Albéniz. But it was a cosmopolitan programme also featuring music from France, Germany, Argentina, Paraguay and even Japan, with Yuquijiro Yocoh’s Sakura demonstrating the extraordinary ability of the guitar to sound like a different instrument entirely. And let’s not forget Britain; I’ll come clean here and admit that I didn’t realise Stanley Myers, who wrote Cavatina, the famous theme from The Deer Hunter, was British.
As well as staples of the guitar repertoire, we heard sensitive arrangements of compositions for the piano by Debussy and Satie. In contrast to the riotous flamboyance evoking Spanish sunshine and the stamping feet of the Argentinian tango, these pared-back French pieces provided moments of blissful beauty and complete calm, a particular highlight being the closing phrase of Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1. How could it be possible for those notes to be played in such a pianissimo whisper and still be actually audible? It was almost more like feeling them inside. A magical moment.
One of the evening’s revelations was a three-movement piece by Paraguayan composer Agustín Barrios Mangoré, La Catedral. Written while he was living in Uruguay, it paints his innermost nostalgia then contrasts the bustling life outside Montevideo Cathedral with the spiritual serenity within, inspired by Bach played on the organ. It was entirely appropriate in the lovely setting of St Peter’s. And the great news is that Michael will return to his home turf in the autumn to give another concert, with flamenco guitarist Samuel Moore, as part of a tour launching their first collaborative album. I suspect it will be a full house.
For further news on Michael’s busy schedule, take a look at his website.