In putting together a program, a guitarist in large part can choose either to play music by Spanish composers or transcriptions of keyboard works.
Lily Afshar chose the former for her recital Thursday night in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. Although there were a couple of transcriptions on her program, as well as a piece by an Italian, Afshar stayed true to the general theme of her concert presenting an evening of wide-ranging pieces by Spanish and Latin American composers.
The Iranian-born guitarist put her remarkable talent on display Thursday. While she does perform a good deal of contemporary works (and also commissions composers to write for her), Afshar's program consisted of 19th and 20th century lyrical pieces that showcased her amazing musicality and wonderfully nuanced expressive playing.
And in several of the works on the program, the sizable audience in attendance also got an impressive glimpse of her stunning virtuosity. Without any doubt, Afshar ranks in the top among today's classically trained guitarists.
The one non-Spanish composer on the program, Carlo Domeniconi, was represented with a Middle Eastern inspired piece, "Koyunbaba" ("The Shepherd" in Turkish). Domeniconi spends part of his time in Turkey, and the four-movement piece is a delightful blend of Western and Eastern sonorities and harmonies.
The last two movements in particular were wonderfully played, with Afshar bringing out the eloquent lyricism of the third and the restless energy of the fourth . The finale certainly tests the mettle of the guitarist. And Afshar gave a forcefully dynamic performance. Her playing was spectacular in the manner in which she conveyed the movement's hushed intensity and ceaseless drive.
The concert opened and closed with the only transcriptions on the program, both from piano pieces by Isaac Albeniz the wistful "Mallorca" and the impassioned "Sevilla," one of the composer's most famous works, both of which Afshar played with profound expression.
Perhaps the most evocative piece on Thursday's concert was the "Invocation and Dance" by Joaquin Rodrigo. An homage to Manuel de Falla, who was a close friend of Rodrigo's, the piece incorporates quotes from de Falla's ballet "El Amor Brujo," which lends an air of mystery to the work. And Afshar gave a wonderfully compelling reading that captured the piece's mystique.
Also on the program were sets of South American ballads and dances. Among the composers represented in these pieces, the Cuban-born Leo Brouwer and the Brazilian Egberto Gismonti are probably the best known. Their pieces were played with sensual lyricsm by Afshar.
Rounding out the concert was music by Agustin Barrios Mangore and Francisco Tarrega, whose tender "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" was given a gorgeous reading.Afshar also played a couple of encores two captivating Persian folk ballads in her own transcription.