Neil Gladd's concert at Daemen College Monday night revealed elements of a surprisingly deep repertoire for the mandolin, an instrument that is rarely thought of within a classical context. While Antonio Vivaldi and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote works that put the instrument front and center, the mandolin generally shows up in 20th century scores as an element of orchestral color.
Other than playing an arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita No. 3 (BWV 1006), a piece originally written for solo violin but one that has shown up in versions for guitar and lute as well, Gladd's recital consisted of works specifically created for solo mandolin. The Bach piece was a bit tricky, with Gladd looking at times as if he were courting carpal tunnel syndrome. The soloist was still able to convey the beauty of the work despite the sound not carrying as well as that of a larger instrument, a factor that forced some of the inner details into the background.
Before launching into the other works in his program, Gladd told the history of the instrument and how the styles of playing advanced, including information about each of the works being performed. For the 18th century piece by Leoni of Naples, a fairly dry, academic work, the soloist detailed the change from a straight up and down picking style to one that skipped strings to create a more complex piece.
The differences were made even more apparent in the delightful "Il Preludio" by Raffaele Calace, a mandolin composer whose heyday was around the cusp of the 20th century. Gladd's playing of finale from Aubrey Stauffer's Concerto for Solo Mandolin displayed some of the Vaudeville roots of the composer, while Sol Goichberg's three-piece suite, "From the Forest," was a generally more reflective and tonally daring work.
Goichberg's piece was an admirable lead into the "Scherzo-Rhapsody" by Chester Mais, a work that displayed the composer's penchant for jazz inflections within the context of his sparse but adventurous style. Gladd played Robert Lombardo's "Fantasy Variations IV" next, noting that it was the first time he had performed it before an audience. It was a solid lead into Gladd's own Sonata II for Solo Mandolin, a work which he thought might contain the only fugue written for solo mandolin in the 20th century.
For the encore, Gladd brought out his hybrid mandolin-banjo, an instrument that grafted a mandolin head onto a miniature banjo body and sounded a bit like a mutant ukulele. His singing is a bit lightweight in comparison to his instrumental prowess, but Gladd's rendition of the roaring '20s classic "Let's Misbehave" was a delightful aperitif to an interesting program.
Classical mandolin player.
Monday evening in the Wick Center, Daemen College.