In the annals of classical music it is difficult to find a musician
who more definitively, indelibly and singularly dominated one
specific instrument than the Andalucian, Andres Segovia. In
a career spanning eight decades, Segovia became synonymous with
the guitar. He championed the instrument’s development from
its folk origins, to the concert stages of the world. Indefatigably,
and with missionary zeal, Segovia travelled the globe over much
of those eight decades, bringing the classical guitar to the
concert audiences of the world.
Some suggest, and with sound justification, that Segovia continued
to perform well beyond his prime, blemishing both his personal
dignity and that of the instrument to which he gave his life.
During a concert tour of Australasia in 1964, Segovia gave concerts
in every major city of Australia and New Zealand, including
provincial centres. During the six-week tour, he travelled in
the vicinity of 16,000 kms. Segovia was seventy-one years old.
Domiciled in Australia at that same time was his favoured ex-student,
José Luis González who he had arranged to teach and concertize
there for a period . To González he gave a concert tour programme
endorsed with his greetings and the comments: From his Maestro
- old and tired. Segovia went on working for much of
the next twenty-three years, until his death in 1987.
Essentially an autodidact, Segovia’s style of playing was highly
individual, and as would be anticipated, was influenced by the
styles of the day. His use of rubato, vibrato and approach to
phrasing, make his playing instantly recognizable. He developed
and refined the technique of tone production with flesh and
nail combination of the right-hand fingers. This allowed him
a wide palette of tonal colours and dynamic range. His mastery
of the apoyando and beautiful tone production through
the use of nails, enabled him to be heard in large acoustically-friendly
venues. Segovia had no empathy for amplification of the guitar,
and despite modern progress in electronic amplification, the
natural sound of the instrument is still compromised when such
techniques are employed. It’s all a matter of quantity or quality.
Segovia’s style of playing, and interpretation of certain periods
of music, has come under strong criticism in more recent times,
particularly from icon John Williams. Irrespective of what the
whims of changing fashion and tastes in musical interpretation
may dictate, the magic of Segovia has been recorded for posterity,
and will stand as a paradigm of excellence not just for his
time, or this time, but for all times.
The review disc is volume six of a series, and presents studio
recordings from 1944 to 1956; this period represents Segovia
in his prime. Obviously the original recordings have been ‘enhanced’
and given their vintage, the sound quality is generally good.
There are some odd sounds in tracks 6-9, and the tracks from
1956, 17-19, are of a generally lower sonic quality. The sound
of the recordings from 1952, 11-13, is excellent, and compares
favourably with modern-day digital recordings.
The programme begins with the vihuelists and ends with modern
original music written for Segovia; it is the style of programme
that one would have encountered in live recital by the Maestro.
The shortest work is 0:46 and the longest 19:52.
It was not until the late 1950s and early 1960s that Segovia
replaced the famed Herman Hauser guitar that was built for him
in 1937 by the German luthier; Segovia described it as ‘the
guitar of the epoch, and this instrument is the one most likely
heard on the review disc. Played consistently in hundreds of
concerts and recordings over more than two decades it was finally
supplanted by guitars initially by Fleta and then by Jose Ramírez
Everything that made Segovia a great master of the guitar can
be heard on this recording; all the aforementioned techniques
are employed to charm the receptive listener and stamp the music
with his special brand of magic. Even those who have made copying
the Maestro’s style a speciality, cannot replicate his uniqueness.
One may identify certain characteristics of his playing, some
for good and others for bad, but collectively Segovia reached
the innermost soul of the guitar and extracted from it something
that nobody else on record has ever managed. While extensive
editing and manipulation techniques may create an illusion on
a recording, on the concert platform the player’s true credentials
are revealed. In his prime, Segovia thrilled audiences and many
found it difficult to believe that this humble instrument, often
just strummed for accompaniment, was capable of polyphony and
such beautiful and sonorous sounds. It should be remembered
that probably to a greater degree than any other classical instrument,
extracting the intrinsic qualities of a guitar is dependent
on the skills of the individual player. A magnificent concert
guitar can sound loud and sonorous in the hands of one player,
timid and shallow in the hands of another.
The tendency among much of the younger generation is to have
‘moved on’ and many see little modern relevance in what Segovia
did in 1944-1956. There are some remarkably capable players
today who play more precisely than Segovia, pay stricter attention
to the theoretical aspects of phrasing and carefully pre-think
every phrase and note they execute, taking no risks; these are
players that win the guitar competitions, and at last the guitar
has joined the ranks of the other concert instruments. One may
listen to recordings of many of these artists and not be able
to identify one player from another; musicality appears of secondary
importance. Of the great violinist Ivry Gitlis (b. 1922), it
has been said: his playing style … is of another more individualistic
generation, a generation not embarrassed by the conscious displays
of high tension emotion – the epitome of singing with the violin
(Violin Hunter). The great Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) strove
to give the guitar a ‘human voice’ and Segovia continued that
tradition, as did his star pupil José Luis González (1932-1998).
In much of the guitar playing we hear today, that voice is mute.
For anyone unfamiliar with Segovia’s recordings and more accustomed
to the modern generation of classical guitarists, this recording
will be an epiphany.