The Al Di Meola and Gonzalo Rubalcaba concert at the Barns of Wolf Trap could have been billed as an evening of piano and guitar. There was no supporting act, there was no backing band, and even the stage was sparse with minimal stage lighting. There were only two instruments on the stage, a black Yamaha Grand Piano and a single-cut, classical guitar. Thankfully, the instruments had four capable hands. The small, intimate venue was perfect for a concert featuring two musicians.
Al Di Meola showed he could shred the guitar just as fast as any heavy metal guitarist. I was impressed by his lightning fast runs on the classical guitar. He used some very tasteful effects. The audience was quiet throughout the performance and you could here Di Meola tapping out the rhythms with his foot with the consistency of a metronome. Al Di Meola left no doubt that he possesses expert technique with the guitar. After witnessing him playing the classical guitar, I am amazed he has any flesh left on his fingers. I thought some of his solos were too scale dependent, a criticism often given to rock shredders as well. I also felt the melodies on some of the numbers were muddied by the notes. What I really enjoyed most about Al’s playing was his vibrato produced by his fingers.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba is a master of the piano much like Al Di Meola is on the guitar. Rubalcaba could play lightning fast runs on the piano and he could pound the ivories with furry. However, the two-time Grammy Award-winning pianist could play it beautifully as well softly caressing the keys. Gonzalo took a back seat to Di Meola when it came to communicating with the audience. He was content to just let his music do the talking and it spoke volumes.
The show started with “Siberiana” from Al Di Meola’s Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody. He stayed with that album as “Mawazine,” “Brave New World,” “Full Frontal Contrapuntal,” and “Bona” followed. Rubalcaba played on four of the tracks on the album but surprisingly none of those songs made the play list. Next they performed Astor Piazzolla’s “Double Concerto” off of Al Di Meola’s album The Grande Passion: World Sinfonia.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba did get the spot light to himself as he performed two pieces on piano. Al Di Meola also took his solo turn. He performed the Beatle’s “Michelle” off his upcoming album recorded at the famous Abbey Roads Studios. The official set list on stage only stated one song a piece, so when he sang two songs, it was an added treat.
After the solo spots they both came on stage to finish the show with “Turquoise” and “Umbras.” The slower songs really highlighted Meola’s guitar playing and the Latin feel on “Turquoise” was a natural fit for Rubalcaba’s piano playing. They left the stage to a well-earned standing ovation for their virtuosic show. They retuned for an encore performance of “She’s Leaving,” which was a fitting piece to end with as it gave their musical skills another chance to shine and they did. They left the stage to another standing ovation. The sound was perfect during the show which felt more like a recital then a concert.
Al Di Meola is a fine composer and unfortunately this is overlooked many times because of his incredible guitar playing. If you are an Al Di Meola fan the future is bright with an upcoming Beatles’ influenced album on the way, the tour with Gonzalo Rubalcabo just starting, and the promise of future recordings with the musicians on the horizon.
Running time: Approximately two hours, with no intermission.
Al Di Meola and Gonzalo Rubalcabo play one more show tonight at 8 PM at The Barns at Wolf Trap – 1635 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For upcoming Wolf Trap events, please check out their website for tickets and upcoming shows, or call (877) 965-3872.