Any single live performance can be affected by many things; a cold venue, a small audience, a slightly fidgety child in the second row (BBR8, sorry!), but when a performer is billed as ‘legendary’ it inevitably raises the expectations of the audience. On this occasion I also brought along my 11 year old son (BBR11) who is studying classical guitar; ‘Come and watch a master at work,’ I said.
Jonathan Prag, if not legendary, is certainly an experienced practitioner and performer of classical guitar music. His repertoire for this year’s Fringe includes some well-chosen pieces likely to enchant and entertain the audience. These were interspersed with morsels of interesting details about the composer, arranger or the history of the music. He is a very nice man.
He opened with Villa Lobos’ Prelude no. 1, but the opening note, the springboard from which the rest of the piece takes flight, was dull. Following this, Prag lost the simplicity and delicacy of the harmonics, failing to achieve any colour or intensity in the first three sweeps. The second section, which should have flowered from the first, was instead galumped through with many damp notes. This is a romantic piece that should lift and tease the audience in a sensual crescendo before laying them on a bed of silken roses. This audience got cabbage.In many ways, tango is a form higher than just music; it can only be delivered well with true passion and subtlety. It speaks the language of seduction, but Prag raced through the Piazzolla piece, blurring the differences between hard and soft notes and losing the sensuality of the rhythm.
His saving grace was the last piece, by Paco Peña, which seemed to suit Prag’s style of playing more. Covering the nuances of the other pieces might look like character assassination, and Jonathan Prag is a lovely man playing the first concert of his run. BBR11 was impressed, but there is a difference between playing all the notes in the right order and expressing the emotional truth of the music. I was left feeling as faded and lifeless as the flowers expiring in the shaft of light from the church window.