Review of 16th Meeting: 7 November, 2015

A new departure for SLEGS, in that we had two performers with Torres-related classical guitars. More later…


Chris Jupp rose to the occasion, quite literally, by performing standing up, playing a 4c guitar made by Bill Samson. A Branle and Tourdion by Adrian Le Roy were despatched within seconds, leaving the audience wishing he had played repeats, perhaps even adding a variation or two. The playing was excellent, and we hope Chris gives us more next time. He finished with his own arrangement of My Mistress Blush Is Bonnie, from the Skene manuscript, which sounded lovely on the small guitar.


Yasuhiro Nakashima flew in from Japan to perform with his 7c lute: Rujero (from the Samson manuscript) and Cassandra by Raimundo. Yasuhiro has a very disciplined right-hand, thumb-in technique, which brought out great clarity to the chordal and contrapuntal passages. The faster runs were despatched with ease. Excellent playing.

Yasuhiro was then asked to perform the Rujero again, this time on a lute built by Stuart Goldie. This was Stuart’s first attempt at making a lute, and his only other self-made instrument is a violin. Although there was a problem with the finish on the soundboard, the sound of the instrument was lovely. It is hoped that Stuart, a fine guitar player, will now devote some time to playing the lute, and play for us at a future meeting.

Philip Lord started well with a Prelude in F by Weiss from the British Library ms 30387. Sighs of appreciation greeted the first entry of the low range of his magnificent Michael Lowe 13c lute. Unfortunately, Philip went on to suffer a problem we are all familiar with, lack of concentration, and the piece went adrift. Next time, Philip!


Bill Samson is one of our Society’s treasures. He is not only more knowledgeable than any of us about the history of the lute, he was also responsible for the creation of three of the instruments played today. His latest is a Torres-style guitar, based on Torres FE18 of 1865, though with rosewood for the back and sides, and 64cms string length. The sound was beautifully rounded, as one might expect a Torres guitar to be.

Bill played the famous Bm study by Catalan guitarist/composer, Feran Sors, aka Fernando Sor. It was a good performance, but one felt Bill was warming up. The second piece, a Rondoletto by Napoleon Coste, was performed with much more confidence, the guitar showing its full dynamic range. This was an excellent performance of a very good composition.

Well done, Bill. That guitar is a beaut.

Chris Elmes is our resident medievalist, today playing a Bill Samson 5c lute, plucked with a quill. An improvised prelude heralded the 14th-century composition, Chetizova Nascondere. The prelude was captivating – I could have listened to Chris’s meandering for much longer. The composed piece was very interesting, apparently subject to improvised decoration in an appropriately stylised manner.

Chris then surprised, nay, terrorised, the audience by asking for someone to sight-read a tenor line. Rob MacKillop stepped up rather hesitantly, as he had left his reading glasses at home. Chris Jupp wouldn’t let him off, offering Rob his own reading glasses!

After a brief lesson from Chris on what he expected Rob to do, Chris then improvised beautiful lines around the original 14th-century tenor part, as was the custom in those days. It’s great to hear and see such a forgotten and neglected art come alive in an Edinburgh flat, in 2015. Chris Elmes must be one of the finest medieval lute practitioners in Europe, certainly on this island.


David Bateman played a lute which was part-made from a kit some thirty years ago, and which lay abandoned until its owner recently gave it to David, who completed the construction. Although a guitar player, David hadn’t played a lute until recently, and entertained us with six pieces from the student repertoire. The lute, plucked with a guitarist’s nails, was very loud and strident, and one could tell that David has studied Renaissance dance. Keep at it, David. You are off to a great start.

Rob MacKillop delighted us with his playing on his new guitar by master luthier, Simon Ambridge.  The guitar is not a specific replica of any one guitar, but is based mainly on surviving guitars by Antonio de Torres – the greatest maker in the second half of the 19th century.  There are also elements of Manuel Ramirez and Santos Hernandez in the design of the guitar.  The guitar is strung in gut; just as it would have been a century or more ago.


Rob drew a sweet sound from the instrument – a more personal, intimate sound than we are used to hearing from the current generation of guitarists – largely due to his right hand technique that uses the fingertips, rather than nails, to pluck the strings.

The  pieces he chose to play us were mostly from composers who played original guitars of this type – masterly interpretations of ‘Pavana’  by Francisco Tarrega,  ‘Valse in E’ by Dionysio Aguado, ‘El Mestre’ – an arrangement of a Catalan folk song by Miguel Llobet, ‘Bolero’ by Julian Arcas – as well as a lovely piece newly composed for him by the French composer Christian Vasseur, entitled ‘Rob’s Dream’.  This was a premier – hardly surprising since the final score only arrived nine hours before the performance! If any of us doubted the quality of the music that comes from a gut-strung guitar played without nails, these doubts were rapidly dispelled by Rob’s spellbinding performance.

We look forward to hearing more of this repertoire at future meetings.

The attendees then split off into group huddles and discussions, and the playing continued… photos by Bill Samson.







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