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18 March 2008

Personality, Precision and Panache

Perth International Festival: Craig Ogden, Paul Tanner // WA // 24th February

Craig Ogden and Paul Tanner Image: Craig Ogden and Paul Tanner  
© Tony Harrison

Any audience member, who was not already an admirer of this performance duo before their recent concert in Perth as part of the 2008 Perth International Festival, would almost certainly have been converted by its conclusion. Guitarist Craig Ogden and percussionist Paul Tanner captivated the audience from first pluck to final punch. Former university classmates and close friends, these world-class musicians demonstrated what a great chamber performance is all about – not just technical skill, intelligent interpretation and musicality, but also sincerity, charisma and enjoyment.

Guitarist Craig Ogden and percussionist Paul Tanner captivated the audience from first pluck to final punch.The Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery worked well as a venue because it enhanced the atmosphere created by the musicians, with a natural backdrop of eucalyptus silhouettes in the late afternoon sun. The mood was light, friendly and relaxed, with the swaying gums proudly acknowledging Ogden and Tanner as fellow Western Australians, while taking on a more literal role in pieces such as Nigel Westlake’s Songs From the Forest.

Consisting of nine works, by composers from a wide range of countries, the program was exciting, engrossing and varied. All pieces had been written or arranged within the last fifty years. Strong and absorbing textural and rhythmic elements created unity despite the diverse styles, including impressionism, jazz fusion, tango and bossanova. The order of pieces flowed well and was obviously the result of careful thought. For example, Chick Corea’s work, No Mystery, was immediately followed by Deux Arabesques, by Claude Debussy, one of Corea’s musical influences, as explained by Tanner.

The opening piece of the afternoon, Ross Edwards’s Djanaba (meaning laughter), was originally written for bass clarinet and percussion, but Edwards decided to re-arrange it for Ogden and Tanner after hearing them perform together several years ago. The guitar arrangement created an added lightness and buoyancy, and the piece skipped along in a happy and laid-back manner, despite the constantly changing metre and evolving motifs. Ogden and Tanner often open overseas concerts with this work, due to its distinctive Australian character. The third work presented, Metropolis, was written for the pair by English composer, Vincent Lindsay-Clarke, a friend of Ogden and admirer of the talented duo. Here, the audience was transported from the Australian bush to a drive through a busy city soundscape.

Due to the limited existing repertoire for guitar and percussion duo, many of the presented works had been arranged by Paul Tanner to include marimba and/or vibraphone. Tanner’s previous studies in composition have stood him in good stead for this task, as the arrangements are well crafted and creatively approached, whilst effectively retaining the essence of the composers’ styles. Most pieces were originally conceived for two guitars, such as the first movement from Astor Piazzolla’s Tango Suite and Westlake’s Songs from the Forest. In the latter, Tanner tapped the edge of the vibraphone bars with the mallet handles to re-create the effect of guitar harmonics, and alternated between marimba and vibraphone, based on Westlake’s variations in mood. Tanner also re-arranged the afore-mentioned Debussy piece, which was originally a piano work. The reverberant performance of this piece on guitar, marimba and vibraphone was one of the highlights of the concert. Debussy’s exquisite shades of colour and changing textures not only remained present in the re-arrangement, but were also given added depth, creating a fluid, three-dimensional effect. Debussy’s style translated beautifully to this fresh instrumentation.

Another highlight was the lively bossanova work by Brazilian Antonio Carlos Jobim, A Felicidade, arranged for guitar by Roland Dyens. Tanner moved up next to Ogden and accompanied him on cajon, a type of wooden, percussive box, which is sat on and played with the hands. The performance included an electrifying solo by Tanner and precision playing by Ogden, which was vocally appreciated by the audience at the end of the piece.

Great performers make everything look easy, which is true of Ogden and Tanner. Ogden’s intricate guitar playing demonstrated his thorough technical knowledge and sensitive appreciation of each musical style he approached: each melodic line and harmony could be clearly distinguished and the complex rhythms were steady yet spicy. The pair obviously enjoy performing together, which they have done many times throughout Australia and Europe since 2000, and hence communicate very well on stage – entries and endings were clean and sharp, and they were able to remain perfectly synchronised even in the most complex of rhythmic grooves. Their spoken descriptions about each piece were often accompanied by witty remarks or comic banter, which enhanced their likeable.

Western Australia has produced two fine musical performers in Craig Ogden and Paul Tanner. With Ogden currently based in Manchester and Tanner in Perth, let us hope that they continue to find time to perform together and to treat us and the rest of the world to their thoroughly entertaining and refreshing style and talent.

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Kelly Curran is currently completing a Bachelor of Music in Composition at Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University. She has had many of her works for chamber groups performed around Perth, and has also written pieces for film and dance. Kelly aims to continue her research into emerging hybrid forms of tango.


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