programme comprises three of the most famous and best loved
guitar concertos of the twentieth century. The Concierto
de Aranjuez takes pre-eminence over all other guitar concertos
of the period, but both the Ponce concerto and that of Villa-Lobos are fine works in their own right.
things of the guitar, only the name of Andrès Segovia is more
famous than this concerto. Composed by Joaquin Rodrigo in 1939,
its inaugural performance was in Nov 1940 by Regino Sanz de
la Maza, the guitarist to whom it was dedicated. The composer
stated: “It is meant to sound like the hidden breeze that stirs
the treetops in the park; it should be only as strong as a butterfly,
and as dainty as a véronica.”
different guitarists have recorded the Concierto de Aranjuez,
a notable exception being Segovia who suffered “nose-out-of
joint” syndrome because it was dedicated to someone else. The
flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia has done a uniquely different
but beautiful recording [Verve 31 451 03012] quite a feat for
a musician outside the classical idiom and with limited music
this concerto has been transcribed for harp and orchestra: also
used as background music in countless different contexts. The
American poet, composer, songwriter Rod McKuen used the melody
of the second movement as a source of inspiration for a poem
which he subsequently recorded with the relevant part of the
music as accompaniment.
are able to quickly identify its melodies without knowing their
source. It is doubtlessly the masterpiece of 20th
century composing for guitar and orchestra
Concerto del Sur and Villa-Lobos Guitar Concerto
two concertos have a number of things in common: Famous, prolific
South American composers wrote both; each was composed for Segovia, and he premiered both with the relevant composer conducting.
Ponce was the first important Mexican composer to write for
the guitar. Although Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was the first
20th century composer to write a concerto for the
was the first to conceive the idea. While the Concierto del
Sur was not completed until 1941, earliest sketches date
from 1926 during his time in Paris. On Oct 4th, 1941 Segovia played the inaugural performance
with the composer conducting.
Villa-Lobos composed his “Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra”
in 1951. One of more than two thousand compositions executed
during fifty years of composing, it was originally entitled
“Fantasia Concertante”. It was premiered on Feb
6th 1956 with the Houston
American guitarist Sharon Isbin began studies of the guitar
in Italy at age nine, and later was a student of Segovia and Oscar Ghilia.
She is also a former student of Roslyn Turek. Ms. Isbin currently
gives 60-100 concerts a season and attends to an ever-expanding
live performance of the Concierto de Aranjuez, Ms Isbin
broke a fingernail while playing a rasqueado (flamenco-like
strumming of the strings with the right hand fingers). Most
concert guitarist will testify to the debilitating effect of
a broken nail on subsequent performance and completion. She
now uses a plectrum in these dramatic passages claiming to lose
nothing in execution and avoiding recurrence of broken nails.
guitar playing on this recording is unfortunately outshone by
the orchestral performance. For the New York Philharmonic conducted
by Jose Serebrier, this is a debut recording with a guitarist
and, as anticipated, they do a fabulous job.
guitar playing is competent but uninspiring. Particularly in
the Rodrigo concerto, Ms. Isbin is not convincing in the rapid
single note passages that recur throughout. Timing and phrasing
are sometimes idiosyncratic, and at times tone from the guitar
is on the “thin” side. If reputation is any guide one must assume
that the Thomas Humphrey Millennium guitar that she plays has
better intrinsic tonal capabilities.
these minor distractions the overall result is very enjoyable
and recommended listening. The sonic qualities of this disc
are quite outstanding and will particularly appeal to hi-fi
“buffs” who enjoy the guitar.
recordings represent each of these concerti but it is always
challenging to find one in which soloist, orchestra and combination
excel. The more popular composition, that of Rodrigo, receives
an almost unbeatable performance by John Williams [Sony 25648]
with Louis Frémaux and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Norbert Kraft
[Naxos 8.550729- including the Villa-Lobos
concerto] and Pepe Romero [Philips 438 016-2] also provide very
different but enjoyable renditions. In each instance the guitar
playing is superior to that on the review disc.
latest release of Sharon Isbin combines a treasured programme,
fabulous orchestral backing, excellent sonic properties and
competent guitar playing. The latter however does not compare
with the best on offer.