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Jonathan Prag has been a regular at the Festival Fringe since 1992.  After twenty years, the quality of his performances mark him out as one the Fringe’s finest musicians.
Classical Guitar – Jonathan Prag (1.30 pm, until 27 August, at C too, St Columba’s by the Castle, Johnstone Terrace) is a reminder, if we need it, of the emotional power of the solo guitar.  It is also performed in a wonderful setting.  St Columba’s is a small Victorian architectural gem, with a plain, lightsome interior, a totally fitting venue (marginally spoiled by the modernist mural behind the altar) for this scale of musical event.
Prag started with Villa Lobos, “the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music,” whose two great influences were Brazilian folk music and JS Bach.  Neatly and aptly, his next piece was the First Suite for Solo Lute by JS Bach.
Prag continued to exemplify the guitar’s versatility and its capacity to move and challenge the listener.  He ranged expertly through Irish traditional folk tunes, a wonderful version of Cole Porter’s ‘Begin the Beguine’ and work by Flamenco master Paco Peña.   A reverberating Tango by Ástor Piazolla was accompanied by Prag’s explanation of the dangers of musical innovation: Piazolla was reviled, threatened and spat upon by many Tango traditionalists inArgentinaprior to his genius becoming more commonly accepted.
This was a gripping performance from which it was hard to select high-spots because of the quality of the concert as a whole.  Certainly his rendition of the Staten Island Hornpipe had toes tapping throughout the hall and his version of Bela Bartok’s Rumanian Folk Dances held the rapt attention of the entire audience.
This was technical excellence and quiet restraint brought to bear on a programme with wide appeal.  No other instrument quite achieves the same impact as the solo guitar, that sense for the listener of being entirely alone as the music strips away every inessential emotion.   It was therefore entirely fitting that Prag’s well-deserved encore was a moving version of Mal Waldron’s song for Billie Holiday, ‘I’m Left Alone’.
We can only trust that after these first twenty years, the appearances at the Fringe will remain high on Jonathan Prag’s priority list.
The above article was first published in Lothian Life on 23 August 2012:

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