Listening to Lily Afshar play Thursday night in Libby Gardner Concert Hall was like hanging out listening to a friend play guitar in the living room – if your friend happened to be one of the world’s best guitarists. Afshar’s friendly, relaxed manner endeared her to her Virtuoso Series listeners, even as her seemingly effortless command of the instrument captivated them. In lieu of printed program notes, she introduced each piece from the stage, which she shared with a lovely floral arrangement roughly as big as she was.
The acoustic environment of Libby Gardner leaves no room for error. This was no problem for Afshar, who spun out intricate musical lines cleanly and with rich nuance. Even the quietest pianissimo registered decisively.
The Iranian-born guitarist displayed impressive range in a program composed primarily of Spanish and Latin American music from the 19th and 20th centuries. There were the picturesque, nostalgic “Mallorca” by Isaac Albeniz and “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Fancisco Tarrega, a pair of delicate waltzes by Paraguayan composer Agustin Barrios Mangore and a sunny, carefree set of South American dances from Venezuela and Argentina. Three pieces by Cuban Composer Leo Brouwer and one by Brazil’s Egberto Gismonti further showcased Afshar’s versatility; Brouwer’s “Danza del Altiplano” featured some delightful percussive passages.
Afshar’s knack for voice leading was especially apparent in Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Invocation and Dance,” whose distinct melodic lines played out in an appealing narrative. She stepped off the Latin path with “Koyunbab (Shepherd)” by Carlo Domeniconi, an Italian composer who spends part of the year teaching in Turkey. It was a delicious mix of Eastern and Western flavors. Afshar played two of her transcriptions of Persian folk songs, encompassing an intriguing range of timbres, as an encore.
Katherine Reese Newton