Assad brothers unite for a lyrical evening of guitar

03.18.10
Sérgio and Odair Assad
Indianapolis Star

By Jay Harvey

The guitar is such a well-traveled and adaptable instrument that a selection of music by adept, imaginative players is likely to sound at home in everything it attempts.

When there are two such players -- say, the brothers Sergio and Odair Assad -- every point along the way is apt to have the solidity and reassurance of a milestone. Masterpieces are not so much a part of the guitar tradition as is the vitality of the repertoire's best music in representing the instrument's lyricism, peculiar colors and animated rhythms.

Born in Brazil and, according to what Sergio Assad said from the stage of the Indiana History Center on Wednesday evening, rarely together as a duo since they now live on different continents, the Assads captivated a large audience with their finesse and rapport.

The highlights of the program included a four-movement solo work, with Odair Assad (the younger brother, now living in Belgium) playing Leo Brouwer's "Sonata del Caminate."

The work nicely yielded its initial virtuoso flash to the gradual encroachment of a serenade. Clarity and brilliance were specifically evoked in the title of the finale ("Toccata Norestina") and duly executed, as the music moved from the repeated notes and swift figuration of "Danza Festiva" to an intense conclusion.

The Brouwer sonata was the piece that owed most to modernism, but it is more characteristic of guitar music to go its own way, evoking the varied terrains where it has put down the most durable roots. This was evident in the program's last work, Sergio Assad's "Tahiya li Ossoulina" (Homage to Our Roots), which honored the brothers' mixed Brazilian, Italian and Lebanese heritage.

The piece featured some delicate harmonics, highly ornamented melodies, echo phrases and a plethora of percussive effects. As with everything the Assads played, the degree of coordination was flawless with every slight shift of tempo.

Two pieces by Astor Piazzolla, arranged by Sergio Assad (now a U.S. resident), had some of the catchiness of the popular tangos the Argentine composer is best known for. The Assads played them with sharply defined rhythms, an almost orchestral palette of colors and smoothly coordinated forward drive.

The older brother's skill as the duo's arranger also was evident in rich settings of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Amparo" and "Stone Flower" and in a pair of pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Egberto Gismonti's "Palhaço" put a sustained emphasis on lyricism -- bluesy and with pastel decorations of its haunting melody.