Local Heroes: Classical Masterpieces, Melbourne Recital Centre, July 9

To borrow from George Orwell, all instruments are created equal, but some are more equal than others. And if you happen to be a classical instrumentalist of that more equal variety – the common or garden strings, keyboards, woodwinds and brass – the breadth and calibre of repertoire at your disposal is plentiful.

However, for those less common, non-orchestral instruments – and the chamber ensembles comprised of them – a rather specialist canon, little known to most audiences, is their lot.

Ziggy and Miles Johston play with a sonorous richness of tone.Credit:Shannon Morris

To break out of this musical cul-de-sac, guitarist brothers Ziggy and Miles Johnston followed in the footsteps of countless artists, turning to arrangements of works not originally intended for their discipline.

There’s nothing particularly unconventional about this approach. Indeed, it’s a tried and true practice that is almost as old as the Western classical tradition itself.

And yet, it’s not a fail-safe gambit either. This guitar duo may have felt confident in programming three of classical music’s biggest chart-toppers: Rossini’s overture to The Barber of Seville, Mozart’s Piano Sonata No.11 in A (famed for its Rondo Alla Turca) and Beethoven’s "Moonlight" sonata.

However, this music comes pre-loaded not only with familiarity but also expectation, and the often unidiomatic arrangements – hamstrung by a narrow dynamic range and clipped tessituras – revealed more about the guitar’s limitations than its possibilities.

Which is frustrating, because both Ziggy and Miles are clearly skilled, playing with a sonorous richness of tone, warmed by just the right amount of vibrato, which would no doubt soar in more flattering music. I’d have rather heard them turn these talents to an obscure rarity than these merely passable potboilers.

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