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Francisco TARREGA (1852-1909)
Guitar Pieces: 1 Pavana [1:44]; 2 Maria [1:30]; 3 Capricho árabe [5:37]; 4 Adelita [1:43]; 5 Lágrima [1:48]; 6 Pepita [1:54];7 Vals [2:09]; 8 Receurdos de la Alhambra [5:48]; 9 Alborada [2:09]; 10 El columpio [2:56]; 11 Tango [3:47]; 12 Endecha [0:59]; 13 Sueño [2:18]; 14 Gran Jota [9:43];15 Estudio en mi menor [1:24]; 16 Estudio en re mayor [0:34];17 Estudio de Campanelas [ 0:44]; 18 Estudio en re mayor [0:38]; 19 Estudio en re mayor [0:28]; 20 Estudio en la menor [0:34]; 21 Estudio en mi mayor [0:49]; 22 Fantasia sobre motivos de "La Traviata"[7:01]; 23 Marieta [2:25]; 24 Rosita [1:54]; 25 Danza Mora [2:09]; 26 Mazurka en sol [2:22]; 27 Preludio en mi mayor [1:41]; 28 Grand Vals [2:49]; 29 Oremus [0:53]
Fernando Espi (guitar)
Recorded Auditorio de Altea la Vella, May 2002. DDD
VERSO VRS 2007 [72:32]

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This new release of guitarist Fernando Espi by Verso is a prime example of why sometimes you can "judge a book by its cover." Superbly packaged, the slipcover and liner-notes booklet are adorned with a beautiful painting (En el patio by Ricardo de Nadrazo, 1852-1917) of a young female guitarist resplendent in the attire of Tarrega's times. These visual delights in no way belie the aural treasures to be found "inside".

The twenty-nine tracks on this disc are all original compositions by Franciso Tarrega. No name in the history of the classical guitar engenders more reverence than that of Tarrega who was born in 1852. By that time Giuliani, Sor, Aguado and Carulli were all deceased and the guitar was at the end of an era of splendour. Often referred to as the "modern awakener of the guitar", Tarrega initiated a renaissance that augured well for the modern era championed by Andrés Segovia.

Tarrega was a prolific composer. His output includes some very beautiful miniatures. There are also arrangements of music by Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert and Albéniz to compensate for deficiencies in the then extant guitar repertoire. His technical innovations form the basis of modern technique.

Fernando Espi has a very "period " approach to this music. There is strict attention to detail of the original music exemplified by playing of all glissandos. By modern standards these are often ignored or used very selectively.

The instrument used is by luthier Joaquin Garcia and is similar in design to the Antonio Torres guitars played by Tarrega. Mr. Espi describes the sound as ‘sweeter and velvety and albeit it with nylon strings seeks to emulate the sound Tarrega, with finger tips only, obtained on gut strings". Some sources indicate that Tarrega did not employ fingernails when sounding the strings because his own were so thin and brittle as to be dysfunctional. Others indicate that the use of fingertips alone was based exclusively on preference.

Fernando Espi is a fine guitarist and gives a good account of himself both technically and musically. Rather slavish adherence to "period" interpretation appears to be at the expense of not always responding to invitation for virtuosic display. The Danza Mora [25] is played in a rather stiff and reserved way that is not evocative of the title. Anna Vidovic [Naxos 8.5545563] and Alirio Diaz [Vanguard 08-919472] both capture the true spirit of a "Danza Mora" and accept the opportunity to display credentials of the virtuoso as provoked by the music

Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Recollections of the Alhambra) is probably the most famous piece of music ever written for the guitar. Tarrega composed this as a tremolo study - rapid repeating of single notes on one string with the right hand fingers. In addition to its didactic objective it was written to be evocative of the Alhambra at Granada, the fortress-palace of the Moorish kings. This piece of music is often played at break-neck with any intended evocation simply evaporating. Mr. Espi gets it just right and played at a more desirable speed [5:48] in some ways, it is more technically challenging than when played very quickly.

It is surprising that the very famous "Estudio Brilliante de Alard" was not included because it is a treasure in every sense. Excluding a couple of the more trivial compositions ([10], [15]) would have provided space. On the other hand inclusion of the less known but beautiful Estudio de Campanelas [17] is modest compensation. In general one must question the criteria for selecting programme items. Within the corpus of Tarrega's works are other items which had they been included, the overall result would be more pleasing.

There are sometimes challenges in identifying the works of Tarrega as no cataloguing or systematic opus numbers exist. In this recording some items, traditionally referred to as "preludes", are identified as "studies"- which in reality they are. The recording of Tarrega's works by Davis Russell [Opera tres DGC 1003/4] again illustrates this problem where some works are simply identified with a "dedication". Track [35] which simply has the title "dedication to B. Cramer" has eluded this writer in printed form because the identification is inadequate for publishers.

In 1991 the master guitarist David Russell released 41 original Tarrega compositions on two discs [Opera tres DGC 1003/4]. His approach is very modern and in every sense the playing is magnificent. It is against such a well-established standard that the recording by Fernando Espi will be judged.

This new release is beautifully presented and will have special appeal to those with an appreciation of original compositions by this famous guitarist. Espi's capable approach is very "period'. Some may prefer the more "modern" exponents such as David Russell.

Zane Turner

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