Review: ‘Live At Hampden Hall’ Reaffirms Ana Vidović’s Top-Tier Status

This new release captures the classical guitar virtuoso in a spectacular live performance with no editing or alternate takes.
Ana Vidovic playing guitar

Classical guitar virtuoso Ana Vidović plays passionately before live audiences, but feels uninspired playing in an empty recording studio. Hence, she’s released few studio albums. While videos and clips of her onstage performances abound online, the sound quality is hit or miss. Her new release, Live at Hampden Hall, addresses both issues. Issued on the audiophile label Octave Records, the two-CD album captures Vidović in a spectacular performance in Englewood, Colorado, with Octave’s Pure DSD 256 process. The warm, high-definition sound places listeners right at Vidović’s feet. There was no editing, no alternate takes; everything is as played at that concert.

As her program confirms, Vidović shines in Baroque music—especially in works by J.S. Bach. Disc one opens with Bach’s Cello Suite in G Major, BWV 1007 (played here in D major). Vidović settles in with thoughtful, relaxed readings of the Prelude and Allemande before upping the energy for the spritely Courante in 3/4 time. She flows into the stately Sarabonde, caressing its graceful melodic contours and adding crisp trills at key places. Of the two Menuets, the second, in the parallel minor key, waltzes more delicately than the first. She takes the concluding Gigue at a comfortable, loping pace, effortlessly handling its double-stop passages and brisk scalar bursts.

Vidović continues with Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1, BWV 1001. Many guitarists transpose this suite in A minor, but Vidović plays a transcription in the original key of G minor. While this tonality can be challenging on guitar, Vidović shows no signs of struggle. She shapes the flowing lines of the opening Adagio with give and take in the tempo and varied timbres.

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Vidović capably leads the repeated-note Fuga theme on its journey to various tonal centers in appearances on the upper as well as lower strings. Her tempo is on the up side of moderate, and the momentum never flags—regardless of a passage’s thorniness. She underscores the pastoral sweetness of the Siciliana with dynamics that alternately duck in and out of the shadows at cadences. The Presto is pure joy, taken at a good clip. She maintains the drive to the end, always sure-footed, especially when Bach alternates the phrasing of the melody from groups of three 16th notes to two.

Disc one closes with Mauro Giuliani’s Gran Sonata Eroica, Op. 150, a showcase for Vidović’s technical precision, control, and musical imagination. She flies through scalar runs and linear arpeggios with flair. Yet, bravura doesn’t overtake musicality in this eight-minute romp as she slows to revel in the poignant moments.

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The towering La Catedral by composer Agustín Barrios Mangoré opens the second disc. Vidović imbues its first two slow movements with luminosity before launching into the athletic Allegro Solemne. The three-minute workout in arpeggios and scales traverses the entire the fretboard, and Vidović plays it with vigor.

Vidović goes back to Baroque for four sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. K 213 in D minor gets an introspective reading before the more fugal K 1 in D minor picks up the tempo. Vidović maintains the energy level through the evergreen K 322 in A major and K 380 in E major, ornamenting with lovely cross-string trills.

Revisiting the classical era, the penultimate piece is Giuliani’s Grande Overture Op. 61. Taking an ambitious tempo, Vidović totally owns this barn-burner, ripping through its diverse arpeggiated sections and blazing broken-octave passages, but also renders its alternately noble and playful passages sensitively.

The album finishes with Fernando Sor’s Intro and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9. The guitarist is in her wheelhouse on this perennial favorite, and executes Sor’s scales, arpeggios, and double-stops with much finesse. After she strums the two quiet, final chords, the audience erupts with prolonged applause and whoops of approval.

At times on the recording, Vidović plays right up to the edge of her formidable abilities, yet never falters. Kudos go to recording and mix engineer Paul McGowan, executive producer Jessica Carson, and assistant Terri McGowan for documenting this impeccable recital, which validates Vidović’s position in the top tier of her generation’s virtuosic performers.

Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 344

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Mark Small
Mark Small

Mark Small is a New England-based classical guitarist, composer, and music journalist.

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