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A Soulful, Virtuosic Player Holding the Spotlight Alone

02.14.11
Odair Assad
The New York Times

By ALLAN KOZINN

The Brazilian guitarist Odair Assad performs mostly as half of the Assad Brothers, and though his older brother, Sérgio, has pursued an independent musical life as a composer, arranger and player, Odair, until recently, seemed disinclined to build a solo career.

His recital at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sunday afternoon made his reticence hard to understand. Not that his technical polish and strong interpretive intuition were surprising. It has long been obvious from the duo’s recordings and concert performances that both the Assads are virtuosic, soulful players. But even though their fraternal bond and, as they have told interviewers, 10 hours of daily practice have helped them cultivate unusual ensemble fluidity, duet performance inevitably requires a measure of personal interpretive restraint.

Freed of that restraint, Odair Assad proved a remarkably elastic player. In Agustín Barrios’s “Chôro da Saudade” and Villa-Lobos’s Chôro No. 1, he emphasized the rhythmic freedom inherent in this quintessentially Brazilian popular form, a quality often lost, or at least compromised, in classical performances. Villa-Lobos’s Prelude No. 3 and Étude No. 10 were similarly unbuttoned: Mr. Assad’s phrasing is highly personalized, with extreme rubato and articulation so varied as to sound almost improvised.

Leo Brouwer’s broad-boned “Sonata del Caminante” was the program’s most involved work, and Mr. Assad, for whom it was written, was undaunted by its contrapuntal thickets. And he gave a spellbinding performance of Kevin Callahan’s “Red Fantasy,” an inviting study in chordal melodies, speedy single lines and occasional bent pitches.

Though not at his brother’s side, Sérgio Assad was not altogether absent. He contributed colorful arrangements of the “Invierno Porteño” and “Primavera Porteña,” the “Winter” and “Spring” movements from Piazzolla’s “Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas” (“Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”) as well as his own “Seis Brevidades,” an appealingly showy six-movement suite. The program also included “Memória y Fado,” a gently melodic meditation by Egberto Gismonti, and a pair of short character pieces by Alfredo da Rocha Viana Filho, the chôro composer better known as Pixinguinha.