"Las mujeres y cuerdas de la Guitarra. Es
menester talento oara temprarlas. – Women and guitar strings:
you need talent to tune them."
That is the text of the first four lines of the
‘seguidilla’ with which this recording opens. There is no doubt
that technically speaking both woman and guitar strings are in
tune on this CD. But from a stylistic point of view the singing
and playing are rather ‘out of tune’.
Fernando Sor spent a large part of his life outside
Spain, not by choice, but forced by the circumstances. Born in
Catalonia he received his first education at the famous monastery
of Montserrat. He learned to sing and to play organ and violin.
Only later he switched to the guitar as his main instrument.
In modern times he is mainly known for music
for guitar, but at a young age he composed operas, symphonies,
string quartets and ‘boleros’ and ‘seguidillas boleras’ for voice
and guitar. Almost all his orchestral and chamber music has been
Although Sor took part in the resistance against
the French invasion in 1808, after Spain was occupied he took
a position in the French administration. In 1813 the French were
ousted and Sor, obviously considered a collaborator, had to leave
the country for Paris. Later he went to London where some of his
ballets were performed. In the mid-1820’s he spent a couple of
years in Moscow. In 1826 he returned to Paris, where his famous
‘Méthode pour la Guitare’ was published in 1830.
The programme on this CD consists of some pieces
for guitar and 8 of the ‘12 Seguidillas’. The ‘seguidilla’ is
a poem of seven lines, the first four of which are the ‘copla’
or verse, the next three the ‘estribillo’ or chorus. These poems
were often set to music, in such a way that they suit to a dance.
One form was the ‘seguidilla bolera’, a seguidilla on which the
‘bolero’ could be danced.
The way this programme has been put together
doesn’t do the artists nor the music any favours. Most seguidillas
are rather short and so are a number of guitar pieces. If more
than one song or a series of short guitar pieces would have been
performed as a sequence the listener would have more time to get
used to both music and performance. And maybe Evelyn Tubb would
have been able to convince the listener that she has the voice
to perform these songs convincingly. But as it is I have to say
that her interpretation is a failure. Her voice is as cold as
ice, lacking the warmth and passion one associates with Spanish
music and some of the best singers of this kind of repertoire,
like Montserrat Figueras and Marta Almajano. Ms Tubb doesn’t seem
to have the right temperament for these songs.
The guitar David Parsons plays is a very authentic
instrument. The English violinmaker of Sicilian descent Joseph
Panormo started to make guitars around 1817. Sor lent him a Spanish
guitar to copy and made some suggestions for improving the instrument.
It resulted in the kind of guitar Joseph’s brother Louis was going
to build. One of his instruments is used here, which is played
the way Sor preferred, as David Parsons himself indicates in his
liner notes: "plucking the strings using only the fingertip
and not the nail." But that doesn’t make up for a lack of
imagination he displays here. Parsons quotes a witness of Sor’s
playing from 1802: "... we listened to his guitar on which
he played one of his inspired pieces of music with such sweetness
and dexterity of the fingers that it seemed to us that we were
listening to a Pianoforte in the variety of expression, sometimes
soft, sometimes loud with certain scales that he performed never
missing one note ...". Technically there is nothing wrong
with David Parson’s playing as far as I can tell, but the ‘variety
of expression’ and ‘sweetness’ the anonymous witness wrote about,
are missing here. I am sure a Spanish player would deal with this
music quite differently.
The recording technique hasn’t been very kind
to the performers as well: the microphones have been put very
close to the guitar. The listener can hear the movement of the
fingers on the strings quite clearly, which I find rather unpleasant.
It could well be that this circumstance also contributes to the
lack of charm in the guitar items.
I am not saying that musicians should only perform
their ‘own’ music – far from it. But some music is so specific
and particular that it is almost impossible to perform it idiomatically
for someone who hasn’t grown up with it. And something like passion
and emotional involvement are qualities which are impossible to
Evelyn Tubb and David Parsons just don’t have
what it takes to deliver the real qualities of Sor’s music.
Johan van Veen