Unlike most guitar concertos this one is scored for full orchestra and is large in scale. Requiring amplification, the solo part nevertheless holds it's own against the orchestra. Likewise, the orchestra gets a decent play in a work of sparkling colour and ideas
The Guitar Concerto was commissioned by and written for Matthew Marshall. Anthony Ritchie has written other works for guitar, including the guitar duet Pas de Deux (1992) for Matthew Marshall and Tony Donaldson. The concerto presented the composer with the added challenge of achieving a balanced sound-world between the guitar and the orchestra. Marshall specifically wanted full orchestral forces used, to move away from the usual guitar concerto scoring, involving reduced numbers and little brass.
This concerto attempts to explore the many aspects of the guitar's character. The first movement begins with a cool, languid theme that gradually opens out into a slightly bluesy idea. The second main theme is romantic in feel, with a hint of Brahms. In the middle section various motifs struggle for supremacy before a seemingly new theme (derived from the opening) appears on solo guitar. This new theme has a driving, determined quality and gradually builds up to a climax. A cadenza follows and leads into a new version of the second theme, transformed by assymetric rhythms. The music drives towards a climax and then fades as the guitar's opening melody is fragmented and dies, accompanied by celesta.
The slow second movement is intimate in mood, and opens with a long melody on the phrygian mode. The lyricism takes a sinister turn with the appearance of the piccolo and guitar, accompanied by basses. A relentless middle section follows, featuring a sonorous guitar theme that builds in intensity to a big climax. The guitar emerges from the wall of sound to close the movement quietly, briefly quoting from John Ritchie's Clarinet Concertino.
The third movement opens with heavy, pounding chords and a brass melody that recalls ancient Maori melodic patterns. As the energy fades, the guitar takes up one of the opening rhythmic patterns and transforms it into a percussive idea. Temple blocks, bongos and drums are added before the piccolo and clarinet introduce the main theme of the Allegro section. The full orchestra presents a pop-style theme followed by the guitar playing a motif in changing metres. These themes are varied through the movement, producing different musical characters, such as the jazzy section in the middle. The coda attempts to bring together the various melodic strands, and finally resolves the bi-tonal tensions that pervade the work.
Funding for the Guitar Concerto was provided by Creative NZ.