Without doubt Andrés Segovia was the most influential
classical guitarist of the 20th century. It was he who laid
the foundations of guitar technique and choice of repertoire. He it
was who commissioned new works for the instrument from his contemporaries
in the field of composition. This would eventually be developed by the
following generations of great players such as John Williams and Julian
Bream. The work of Segovia is now continued by the highly gifted young
bloods that emerge with such frequency today.
His prolific legacy of recordings spanned fifty years,
from 1927 to about 1977. This collection takes a selection between 1952
and 1969. During this period he was arguably at the height of his career.
These tapes, first released by MCA, have been acquired by Deutsche Grammophon
and digitally re-mastered. The results, I must say, exhibit a broader
sonic range that refreshes the listening experience; a most beneficial
investment of time and expertise.
Inevitably there are deviations in the acoustic ambience
between certain works recorded in different studios and at different
times. A solo instrument is very unforgiving in this respect. Whereas
Bach’s "Chaconne" (disc 4) has a somewhat dry acoustic the
Sonata "Omaggio a Boccherini" by Castelnuovo-Tedesco
(disc 2) possesses a large reverb. Presumably this effect was applied,
or was inherent, during the recording sessions themselves and remastering
cannot change it. This is a minor point as the overall sound is fairly
consistent and agreeable given that some of these recordings are fifty
First and foremost Segovia was thought of as a supreme
solo performer. His recordings in the role of soloist with orchestra
are small. Disc 1 highlights this area of his playing in two concertos
originally written for the guitar and a transcription of the Cello Concerto
No. 6 by Luigi Boccherini. At times Segovia was criticised for taking
liberties with time, however, here he demonstrates his ability to integrate
with orchestra and conductor. In this he evinces a skill comparable
with the elite virtuosos of any instrument. Even
if the guitar is a little too far forward in the mix compared to more
modern recordings, these recordings show off Segovia’s exquisitely burnished
tone to good effect.
Early in his career Segovia set about refurnishing
the guitar’s catalogue of music. This he did by requesting new works
for the instrument from contemporary composers. In the main this is
the theme of the second disc in this set. The Spanish composer Federico
Moreno Torroba (1891-1982) was the first to respond. Segovia was thereafter
ever grateful and gave Torroba’s works a certain priority; recording
a good many of his subsequent compositions. Two sets of pieces of Torroba’s
pieces are included here "Pièces Caracteristiques"
and "Castillos de España"; the latter being
musical pictures of some of the numerous castles of the Spanish peninsular.
Both sets show the composer’s eloquent style and empathy with the guitar.
Another favourite of Segovia’s was the Italian composer Castelnuovo-Tedesco
(1895-1968) whose music found favour in the maestro’s guitar. His "Omaggio
a Boccherini" must rank as one of the finest 20th
century works for the instrument. It has been recorded by various players.
The Segovia reading gets to the heart of the music like no other.
For all his endeavours to encourage the writing of
new works Segovia still looked back at his Spanish heritage. Disc 3
comprises music ranging from the vihuelista Luys de Milan (c.1500-c.1561)
to the baroque guitar of Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710) to the classicism of
Fernando Sor (1778-1839) and of Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849). These last
two were the most important guitar composer/performers of their age.
Segovia must have felt a great affinity with their music. All these
pieces are played in Segovia’s inimitable way with his beautiful tone
and vibrato put to good use.
Guitarist Miguel Llobet (1878-1938), a friend of Segovia’s
during the latter’s formative years, was instrumental in the transcription
of the Romantic Nationalistic piano pieces of Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)
and Enrique Granados (1867-1916). Many of these were brought to the
ears of the general public and made popular by Segovia’s recordings
through the years. More recently many other guitarists including both
John Williams and Julian Bream have devoted entire CDs to these most
evocative of pieces. So it is with Granados’s Tonadilla "La
Maja de Goya" with its scintillating pizzicato bass line introduction.
This is probably one of Segovia’s finest interpretations on record.
It brings the third of these discs to a close.
Disc 4 is devoted entirely to Johann Sebastian Bach.
From this period all but one of the titles recorded by Segovia is here(*).
By my reckoning the missing piece is the "Sarabande"
from the lute suite BWV 996. I can only assume that lack of available
space on the disc is the reason for the omission; in any event, a pity.
Segovia’s interpretations of Bach have, to some extent, been the subject
of controversy among baroque purists. The pundits might well have a
case to argue. Nevertheless there is no doubt that through these recordings
a musical door was opened for guitarists who may not otherwise have
considered the great composer a source of material. Segovia’s way was
to select what he thought to be appropriate movements from Bach’s suites,
sonatas and partitas for solo string instruments the cello, violin and
lute(#), and present them as separate
items. The third "Cello Suite" as transcribed by John Duarte
is the only Suite performed in its entirety. The practice of playing
complete Sonatas etc., would become the norm for the following generations
Included in the collection is a booklet containing
the complete track listing together with photographs of Segovia taken
at various times during his career. The inlay notes are by Graham Wade,
whose study of the maestro’s life and work is as unrelenting as it is
fastidious. For this project a more qualified authority on the subject
I cannot imagine. An added bonus is John Lehmann-Haupt conversations
with Israel Horowitz, Segovia’s producer from 1957. His insights into
the guitarist’s views and method of committing music to disc through
the recording process are most interesting.
On the down side I am not so won over with the presentation
used here. At first sight it looks very attractive but I have never
been keen on the slim-line jewel cases. They don’t seem to open that
easily and the surface of the disc is flush with the card inlay so that
fingernails must be used to extract the disc. Full size cases are more
user friendly. The cases themselves, numbered 1 to 4, have no individual
track listing so one has to refer to the main booklet every time, which
itself is not so robust. Frequent use will soon see the spine shedding
For many of Segovia’s devotees the material here will
be familiar. However it is the re-mastering which gives a more faithful
vista into his art and this, together with the choice of works, makes
this set highly recommended.
* Segovia’s other period of Bach recordings can be
heard on ‘The Art of Andrès Segovia’: The HMV recordings 1927-1939,
EMI CHS 761047. There are also seven pieces from Bach’s "The Anna
Magdalena Notebook" on The Intimate Guitar 2 RCA Red Seal ARL1
# What are today recognised as the Lute Suites may
have been intended for a keyboard instrument known as a lute-harpsichord.