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Eliot Fisk and Paco Peña Merge Classical and Flamenco at 92Y

by Robert Leeper

Eliot Fisk, Paco Peña

The subtle nuances and harmonies of the classical guitar are often at odds with the fiery melodies, timbres, and rhythms of flamenco guitar. The two genres often keep each other at arms length, with classical players bringing a formality that is shunned by flamenco players who prize improvisation and spontaneity.

For over 20 years, classical guitarist Eliot Fisk and Paco Peña, his flamenco counterpart, have been working towards blurring those lines in programs like the one they brought to 92Y Thursday night.

The evening began with each of the guitarists playing a short solo set. Peña's playing was vibrant, lavishing detailed texture and a full complement of strumming techniques into an impassioned fandango and a stately lament, played as a tribute to his good friend and fellow flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia, who unfortunately passed away in February.

Mr. Fisk came out with a homemade Spanish suite, giving a deep, resonant reading of Manuel de Falla's Hommage à Debussy, a work by Joaquín Turina, a dignified and gorgeous reading of Albeniz's Granada, and Paganini's Caprice No. 24—which was taken at a blistering pace, and would have benefited greatly from a slower reading. His set finished with two works by Albeniz, including Cordoba, successfully transporting the audience to the statuesque beauty of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, set against the romance and charm of the city.

The two returned after intermission for a series of duets, starting off on the classical end of the spectrum with two sonatas from Domenico Scarlatti (K. 33 and K. 461) and two Bach preludes from the Well-Tempered Clavier (BWV 875 and 927). Baroque piano music has always been popular and considered quite idiomatic for the guitar, and, as a duo, the two were able to increase the contrapuntal possibilities of the pieces. In stark contrast to the natural ease of the Baroque pieces, a transcription of Mendelssohn's Songs without Words, Op. 62 No.1, fell flat. Mr. Peña seemed out of his element as he restrained his fiery flamenco soul to the conservative, if nuanced, melody and rhythm.

After the classical pieces, however, Paco exacted his "revenge" on Fisk, as the two moved on to more flamenco-oriented work in a set of assorted farrucas and colombianas. The brotherly love between the two—as well as their mutual love for this music—became abundantly apparent in this moment. Fisk was able to forget years of "classical" training and sink into the rhythms and moods that are infinitely more important than the specific notes played, and the evening successfully ended with he and Peña trading licks and thrashing at texturally rich chord voicings in equal measure.