Dave Stryker at Jazz Standard
Jóhann Jóhannsson, ACME, and Angélica Negrón at (le) Poisson Rouge

Adam Levin Presents Varied Spanish Guitar Program at (le) Poisson Rouge

by Robert Leeper

Adam Levin

If Spain isn't on your list of places to go in the near future, then you don't have to look much farther than classical guitarist Adam Levin for a survey of the past hundred years of Spanish music. The guitarist's New York City solo début Monday night at (le) Poisson Rouge celebrated the launch of his first Naxos recording, 21st Century Spanish Guitar, Vol. 1., the first of four volumes documenting Levin's major collaboration with 30 of the new century's Spanish masters. Levin's seeks to forge a connection between traditional guitar repertoire of Eugène Ysaÿe and Joaquín Turina, and new works written especially for him by Spanish composers Ricardo Llorca, Eduardo Morales-Caso, and Octavio Vazquez.

Levin looked to the past in his performance of Handeliana, composer Ricardo Llorca's variations on Handel's aria "Va godendo" from the opera Xerxes. The theme was treated with a slight bounce as the melody was playfully spun about. Levin enchanted the audience with the stunning set of variations, which surprisingly left rhythm to be a much stronger indicator of the theme than melody, ultimately culminating in a kind of manic waltz. 

Joaquin Turina's Fandanguillo was given a lively reading, as Levin excels when presenting music in true Spanish folk style—and he truly inserted all the necessary fire and passion of Spain into this rendition. As the fierce rasgueados (a particular style of strumming) flowed forth, one could hardly help imagining a dancer on a cobbled Spanish street.

The highlight of the show was Eduardo Morales-Caso's La Fragua de Vulcano. Translated as "Apollo in the Forge of the Vulcan," the work is based on a 1630 oil painting by Diego Rivera depicting the moment when the god Apollo visits the human Vulcan in his forge to tell him that his wife, Venus, is having an affair with Mars, the god of war. The tension of this moment is well depicted in the Morales-Caso's aural rendition, with the musical emphasis centered on the dark, Phrygian nature of the Spanish folk sound, resulting in a modal feel that featured an insistent drone in the bass.

The program finished with a Levin commission, Octavio Vasquez's vast six-movement suite, Nostos. The title refers to a "homecoming," and, as Levin pointed out, it acts as a culmination of the performance—with Levin taking the audience on an odyssey, both in story and technical challenge. Of particular interest was the third movement, which couldn't have been more than two minutes, but was bewitching in that time and left the audience caught in a gripping silence.

The classical guitar is lucky to have a champion like Levin. His enthusiasm for the music and culture he has chosen is unbridled, and Monday night's performance shows that he has the talent to match.