The latest presentation by the long-established Manchester Mid-day Concerts Society at the Bridgewater Hall was a guitar duo recital by the charismatic Katona Twins, Péter and Zoltán, originally from Hungary but now resident in Liverpool and no strangers to concert halls in the UK.

The Katona Twins © Peter Goodbody
The Katona Twins
© Peter Goodbody
They began with the Miller’s Dance from Manuel de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat. As with all the pieces in the programme except for the last, this was in the performers’ own arrangement for two guitars. Standing, they began to play, lunging towards each other another, withdrawing and facing the audience in accordance with the moods of the music, which made for a dramatic start to the programme. This marked the style of the concert. The brothers stood for the more energetic pieces and sat for the quieter ones. They also introduced the works they were about to play. The rapport between the two was evident throughout. From the very first notes of the Falla, the rich variety of sounds that can be made by a pair of guitars quickly dispelled any memories of the lush orchestral ballet score, replacing them with an equally Spanish sound world.

There followed an addition to the advertised programme: Piazzolla’s Introduction and Otoño Porteño (Autumn in Buenos Aires), bringing in the tango rhythms that would return in the last piece of the concert but also hinting at jazz and the harmonies of Bartók and Stravinsky that were so important to the composer. The juxtaposition of gentle and energetic music made for an exciting performance.

Next came arrangements of the first two pieces of Isaac Albéniz’s mighty collection of piano pieces Iberia. The Twins sat and the atmosphere changed. They conjured up a mysterious, exotic, perhaps impressionistic view of Spain, an Evocación indeed, followed by the quiet bustle of El Puerto, a little fishing port of Santa Maria on the bay of Cádiz. The Twins stood again for third piece by Albéniz: Asturias, whose title (given after the composer’s death by a German publisher) refers to a region of northern Spain but whose music suggests the flamenco traditions of Andalusia. In versions for solo guitar it has become one of the most popular of all classical guitar pieces but the Katonas’ arrangement for two guitars gave an extra dimension, with inventive use of tapping the wood of the instruments either with the flat of the hand or fingernails suggesting castanets, tambourines or drums, as well as whispering tremolos, flamenco strumming and mysterious harmonics. Their formidable technique was up to all the challenges and they gave an exhilarating performance which seemed to come from one instrument.

The mood changed again to something much calmer with Granados’s Oriental (the second of his Three Spanish Dances). More Moorish than Far-Eastern, evocative of, say, the Moorish architecture of Southern Spain, this Oriental was exquisitely beautiful.

Finally we had the only piece on the programme originally written for guitar duo, Ástor Piazzolla’s  Tango Suite. The Argentinian Piazzolla was steeped in the traditional tango of his native country but also studied in Paris in the 1950s and subsequently reinvented the popular dance with the influence of jazz and classical music to create the so-called tango nuevo. By 1984, the date of the Tango Suite, Piazzolla had fused all the disparate influences into his own individual and unmistakable style. The Tango Suite is in three movements, a stirring Allegro, a more reflective andante and a concluding allegro, notable for its changes in moods and timbres. The Katona Twins gave a superb performance of this intriguing work.

In response to the audience’s enthusiastic reception we were treated to a final impression of Spain, Albéniz’s gentle evocation of Mallorca.

In just under an hour we had been transported to Spain and Argentina and given a taste of the mystery, rhythms and sounds of those countries by masters of their instruments. I can think of no better way to spend a lunchtime in Manchester.

****1