By Megan Westberg
Weill Hall, at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center, is a study in rectangles executed in warm, honey-hued wood. The designers planned its aesthetic well: Though a recipient of rigorous acoustical consideration, the hall resists trendiness or aggressive modernity—it will undoubtedly maintain its simple loveliness over time, as pleasing in 50 years as it is today, a mere six years since its completion.
All that is to say, Weill Hall is a pleasant place to take in a concert, and its atmosphere of intimacy was well-suited to the March 30 recital program performed by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux. The program was eclectic, giving the impression that the artists had decided to pull together a few of their favorites and trusted the audience to love them as well.
Meyers floated in, 1741 “Vieuxtemps” del Gesù in hand, wearing a voluminous gown in a soft black, its overlaid geometric pattern a seeming nod to the hall’s distinctive woodwork. Vieaux, also in black, took his seat and with a quick smile between them, they jumped into the music. An arrangement of Arcangelo Corelli’s Sonata in D minor, Op. 5, No. 12, “La Folia,” with variations headed the program. Fleet fingerwork in both instruments marked the players as virtuosos, but the variations that showcased the artists at their best allowed Vieaux to indulge in a little head bobbing, as he navigated his guitar with astonishing ease, and Meyers to pull a sultry voice from her del Gesù.
The mood then shifted as the opening notes of a haunting piece by Philip Glass, Metamorphosis II, rang out. If the balance favored Meyers a bit in the Corelli, she took extra care here not to overwhelm Vieaux’s guitar. Her tone was sweet and restrained, his golden, as they navigated a piece that made effective use of repetition, brief bursts of intensity, and a cool atmosphere of sadness and stagnation. A moment of stillness as the last notes died away allowed the audience to soak in the piece’s underlying sense of longing.
There was nothing stagnant about the next piece on the agenda, Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango. This master of “nuevo tango” may have written the piece about the history of Argentina’s famous export, but he also managed to pack in a lifetime’s experience: humor, drama, fun, tragedy, happiness, resignation, love, regret—all filter through the violin and guitar as dappled sunlight and deepest shadow. By this point, the audience had grown accustomed to Vieaux’s flawless and seemingly effortless technique. That did not, however, make it any less extraordinary. It was also here that Meyers demonstrated her prowess as a “vocal” musician, making use of texture and vibrato to color her playing as a singer would. The throaty depths of her del Gesù to its ethereal heights seemed to span the variety of human expression.
After intermission, each player took a solo. Meyers went first, playing Rentaro Taki’s Kojo No Tsuki (The Moon over the Ruined Castle). It was both melancholy and lovely, her playing emotive but not overwrought. This performance didn’t reveal her to be a player given to abandon: Meyers clearly had it under control. And in pieces that could easily turn to melodrama, that’s a good thing. Vieaux played Antônio Carlos Jobin’s A Felicidade, navigating the familiar melody with rich tone and musical sophistication. He’d toss off virtuoso runs with his signature ease, looking as if, in all the fun, he hadn’t noticed the flurry of notes issuing from the instrument in his hands.
Next came John Corigliano’s “Lullaby for Natalie,” written for Meyers’ first-born daughter (who stood briefly in the audience at her mother’s request). The piece is gentle and sweet, but hints at the missteps of childhood and perhaps the underlying anxiety of a parent watching her little girl grow up. Meyers’ deep connection to this music shone through, her warm, flawless tone and elegant bow arm drawing the audience into the music. She makes the technique look easy, and thus listeners are free to concentrate on its results. Incidentally, this piece marked the only moment where Vieaux seemed less at ease—looking closely at his music as he negotiated chords on the upper reaches of his fretboard. But the moment quickly passed, and the piece resolved in pizzicato.
The final piece of the program was Manuel de Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares Españolas. De Falla, it would seem, had a talent for abrupt endings—though well trained by this point to avoid clapping between movements, the audience seemed collectively insecure about this one. The piece is a collection of Spanish songs, some bright and energetic, some melancholy, some downright dangerous. The vigorous pizzicato in the violin called for in the first song was a little startling, and there were moments here where the balance again favored the violin, but the slow, introspective asturiana was dazzling, each player demonstrating sensitivity and careful ensemble work.
The audience called for an encore. And after Meyers professed herself to be a huge fan of Elvis Presley, Vieaux played the introduction to “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” This song has had a lot of play lately, from Haley Reinhart’s 2015 version that hit No. 17 on a Billboard chart to Kina Granis’ turn in the wedding scene of Crazy Rich Asians. The song represents an artistic challenge, between presenting it at its best—a moment of vulnerable, wistful beauty—and its worst—a big puddle of syrup.
In the hands of these two players, it was rendered romantic and lush, played with sentiment, but not quite over the border into sentimental. The audience audibly sigh with satisfaction as the last notes died away.