Concert review: Katona Twins switch with ease from Bach to Beatles to Piazolla

The renowned Katona Twins guitar duo made a big splash on Thursday in front of a full-house audience at the RELC Auditorium, enthralled by their intense musicianship belied by a seemingly casual and laid-back manner. -- PHOTO: CHANG TOU LIANG
The renowned Katona Twins guitar duo made a big splash on Thursday in front of a full-house audience at the RELC Auditorium, enthralled by their intense musicianship belied by a seemingly casual and laid-back manner. -- PHOTO: CHANG TOU LIANG

Organised by the Goethe-Institut and Singapore International Guitar Festival, the renowned Katona Twins guitar duo made a big splash on Thursday in front of a full-house audience at the RELC Auditorium, enthralled by their intense musicianship belied by a seemingly casual and laid-back manner. Peter and Zoltan Katona were born in Hungary but are now based in Germany and England, where their eclectic style has found the greatest traction.

Although classically trained, the youthful-looking twosome were totally comfortable crossing over to popular and rock genres. Most of their repertoire in this concert, From Back To Beatles, consisted of very well-written arrangements, played on amplified acoustic guitars. Beginning with Handel's Chaconne In G Major, the duo found an inexhaustible fount of nuances in its 20 or so variations played over a repeated ground bass.

Peter in a blue shirt played the melodic line and embellishments while Zoltan in black provided the chordal accompaniment, and before long they had seamlessly switched roles. This continuous interplay of give and take, as if guided by some inner telepathic force, was the guiding rule of the evening. They are, after all, identical twins.

Bach's Allemande (German dance) from the Fifth French Suite was a model of geniality and decorum, and as the title of the concert suggested, segued into the Beatles' Come Together. Rocking on stage like the Fab Four, the duo oozed attitude with the beat vigorously drummed onto the wood of their guitars.

An acute sense of rhythm and timing was key for two pieces by Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz, first a languid Mallorca (Barcarola) followed by the rapidly-shifting and exacting Asturias (Leyenda). Both dances and Astor Piazzolla's tango Otono Porteno (Autumn In Buenos Aires) were accomplished with the greatest of ease, and one could only marvel at their rapier-sharp coordination.

Two of Peter's own compositions were given an airing, Meditation And Passacaglia which began as a soothing serenade and built up to a sort of march rhythm, and the Dostoevsky-inspired Brothers Karamazov, a number filled with tension and a certain unease.

Rock standards such as Mad World by Tears For Fears and the Queen classic Bohemian Rhapsody were given the same treatment. Pleasant may not be the way these songs were meant to be remembered, as the sheer mellowness of the arrangements have blunted the thrust of the original conceptions.

Vociferous applause ensured that two encores were offered. Scarlatti's Metamorphosis combined two of the Italian baroque composer's sonatas, Aria and Toccata In D Minor, in heady torrents of repeated notes. Quite appropriately, the latter is the fearsome sonata known by pianists as the "Guitar". Manuel de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance brought the house down, triggering a manic rush for the Katona Twins' CDs and autographs.