My experience in churches is that God gets most of the notes. If you are sitting more than half way back, the sound goes straight up to heaven. On this occasion I was lucky to have a front seat, and I got all the notes in all their polished magnificence. For once I forgot that ecclesiastical benches in Italy can feel exceptionally hard.
It was an 18th century church, and free of those excesses of Baroque decoration that make you wonder how such a style could survive in an age of great musical strength. Jacques de Saint-Luc was no Bach, Handel or Scarlatti, but he could achieve a fine poetry in his treatment of the conventional Baroque suite. David Russell took one such into his repertoire some years ago, and it was good to hear it again. He has the knack of looking at a piece of music that is not regarded as an obvious masterpiece by the world in general, and of making it into a musical experience for his audience. Whether he is a supreme alchemist, or a skilled miner who finds gold in unexpected places, is perhaps open to argument. There was a timeless moment in the Sarabande when the perfection of the phrasing and the sound made you hold your breath in case you missed anything.
There is an interesting philosophical argument here. Can the musical content be divorced from the treatment of it? We generally agree that a great piece of music can receive a poor performance and still be recognizable as a great piece of music. Similarly, a poor piece of music remains poor, however well played. But when you have a sublime experience, as I did in the Sarabande of Saint-Luc's Baroque suite, must I say that it was entirely due to the skill of the player? Or was the pure gold there all along, and only waiting for a David Russell to come along and reveal its quality?
A similar moment occurred in the Passacaille of the same suite. Later, Regino Sainz de La Maza's Idilio was revealed to have so powerful a melodic line that it only needed some appropriate words to become a huge hit as a love song.
Much of the attractive programme was designed to appeal to a festival audience: Coste's Introduction and Polonaise, Bach's two most popular chorales. Sleepers wake and Jesu, Joy of man's desiring, seven of Grieg's Lyric Pieces, two pieces by Sergio Assad, Pujol's trilogy of Seguidilla, Tango and Guajira, with Malats and Barrios as encores.
The occasion was the culmination of a five day festival in one of Umbria's most attractive towns. It was part of the "Right Profit" movement in which David and Maria Russell are involved together with the Perugia guitarist Michele Corbu and his wife MariaRita. The artists are paid properly, but any profit goes towards sinking wells to relieve drought in Africa. Another well resulted from this festival, and the organizers and sponsors, who included the local council, have reasons to be pleased with their efforts, though of course much remains to be done. A similar Right Profit event earlier in the year was also successful. The movement could take off and make a significant improvement to conditions in Africa, where so much needs to be done, not in the name of charity, but in the name of common humanity.
Colin Cooper. Classical Guitar Magazine