YouTube Pick (#28) – John Dowland (again)

Some years ago I made the big mistake of declaring that Liona Boyd was a musical light weight “who played like a girl”. It was to a group of women so you can imagine how that went over. In 1970 it was another era and in a sense it was also the end of an era. It was a  time when women were beginning to step outside their subservient role and choosing to stand on their merits. At the time Classical guitar performance was a masculine domain. Andre Segovia had established the Classical Guitar as a legitimate solo instrument and by the time Liona arrived on the scene he had passed on and the genre was dominated by the likes of Julian Bream, John Williams and Alirio Diaz. It was still very much a man’s world.  There were female performers who came before Liona. Most notably there was the brilliant French guitarist Ida Presti who, with her musical companion and life partner Alexander Lagoya , has left us with a legacy of some of the best classical duo performances ever recorded. In no way did Ida “play like a girl”. For Liona it was an era in which female musicians were still expected to be overtly feminine, wear frothy dresses, high heel shoes and appear on stage with a somewhat submissive demure. Liona was a perfect fit for those expectations and although she had impressive technique her repertoire, in my opinion, was not adventurious. But, to be fair the repertoire of most classical guitarists of the day lacked a sense of adventure. New composers and compositions were just emerging and these would change the accepted notion of the standard repertoire.

That all changed when Sharon Isbin arrived on the scene. In her own way Sharon was also a stunning looking woman but she did not conform to the “frothy” role expected of a female Classical Guitarist.

She wore practical, but fashionable attire, pant suits and the like,  and she played with a drive and a passion that left most male Classical Guitarists in the dust. One of her first recorded efforts was a collection of the Bach Lute Suites that set the Classical Guitar world on its ear. The Classical Guitar world has never been the same since and the number of high caliber female performers that have followed in he footsteps is astounding. So much so that it is unfair to single out a performer for comment when there are so many young Classical Guitarists, male and female,  out there. Having said that this performance of John Dowling’s Fantasia Number 7 by the very young Australian guitarist Alberta Khoury is of note.This young lady has studied with Sharon Isbin and it may account for her aggressive technical and musical approach. She has been criticized for playing at too fast a tempo but her dynamic and tonal control is above reproach. I believe at the time of this recording she was 16 years old.

For guitarists who may be interested in such things she obviously tunes the G string down to F# and uses a capo on the third fret to emulate the register and sound of the Lute. Also note the guitar rest on the right knee. It is a device that seems to be gaining popularity with classical guitarists.

Just for comparison here is another version of the same piece by a fellow Australian guitarist Andrey Lebedev.

Just in case you may have thought that Alberta’s performance of the John Dowland Fantasia was fluke here is her performance of the Prelude from Bach’s Lute Suite No.4.

So for all you wanna be rock and roll guitar gods out there here is a woman who doesn’t “play like a girl”.

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