Violist Louise Schulman and Guitarist Bill Zito, both critically acclaimed musicians as soloists, joined forces in 2001. The Schulman-Zito duo has taken advantage of the unique timbres of their respective instruments to produce a very rich and singing combined sound. They have made the duos of the Italian composer Mauro Giuliani a particular specialty of their collaboration, having recorded four duos on their Compact Disc “An Italian in Vienna- Duos by Mauro Giuliani” (Sono Luminus DSL-92138 -http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=DSL-92138).
Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) was considered one of the leading guitar virtuosi of his time. Giuliani counted among his friends and colleagues Beethoven (who called him “the divine Giuliani”) and Rossini. Composer of over 150 guitar works that now are considered the core of the 19th century guitar repertoire, he also wrote three guitar concerti and numerous duos for Guitar-Violin and Guitar-Flute. Naturally, the viola was used in place of the violin for this program.
The WMP Concert Hall was the perfect venue for this music. The intimate setting had the feel and look of the 19th century salon, complete with writing desk adorned with a framed portrait on the stage. One could easily imagine being transported back in time hearing Giuliani himself playing his own works for his admirers.
From the opening notes of the Serenade in G major, Opus 127, it was immediately apparent that Ms. Schulman and Mr. Zito have a special rapport, something that is missing from many duos. Played with great sensitivity and delicate balance, the interplay of the melodic material was projected seamlessly and with sparkling clarity. It takes great ability to make what is deceptively complex sound effortless and organic- Ms. Schulman and Mr. Zito have this in abundance. Indeed, this was a recurring theme throughout the entire performance. A humorous moment took place at the end of the third movement, when the audience began to applaud as if the work had been completed. After the applause had faded, Ms. Schulman smiled and said to the audience, “I always think that is the end too!” The duo then played the final movement and finished in fine style.
The Grand Duo Concertante in A major, Opus 85, is another example of Giuliani’s seemingly endless melodic inventiveness. Using a favorite harmonic modulation of his countryman Rossini, this “Viennese” work has an undeniably Italian flavor. Ms. Schulman continued her display of mastery of the material in an unpretentious and restrained fashion. The lovely opening of the second movement, which in the hands of a lesser player could have sounded hackneyed, was played by Mr. Zito with breathtaking beauty. It did seem that some phrases were hurried and cut a bit short (especially in the first movement), but each instance took place at a page turn, a minor quibble that could be easily remedied.
The second half began with the Grand Overture for Solo Guitar, Opus 61. This work gives the modern listener an idea of Giuliani’s brilliance as a performer. Filled with virtuosic flair, this work requires a player with tremendous technique to navigate its many challenges. Mr. Zito gave a confident and inspired performance. It was striking how easy he made it all seem. Ending the concert with the Grande Serenade in D major, Opus 82, afforded yet another opportunity for this duo to demonstrate their excellence. The appreciative audience gave the performers extended and well-deserved applause at the performance’s end.
The Schulman-Zito duo has done honor to Mauro Giuliani by their first-rate performances. I hope they continue to explore the repertoire and delight audiences with their musical gifts.
-Jeffrey Williams for New York Concert Review; New York, NY