The Art of Andres Segovia - Volume 6

Luis MILÁN (c. 1500-1561) Pavana no.1 [0:46]; Pavana no.2 [0:55]; Pavana [1:30]; Gaspar SANZ (1640-1710) Pavana [1:22]; Anon Canzone [1:29]; Saltarello [0:56]; Robert de VISÉE (1655-1732/33) Entrada [1:36]; Gigue [1:28]; Bourrée [0:41]; Menuet [1:53]; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Sarabande [3:57]; Minuet [2:24]; Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787) Danza degli spiriti beati [2:51]; Federico Moreno TORROBA ( 1891-1982) Sonatina in A minor [11:23]; Oscar ESPLÁ (1889-1976) Impresiones Levantinas, N.1 [1:40],N.2 [1:49]; Joan MANÉN (1883-1971) Fantasia-Sonata [19:52]
Andres Segovia (guitar)
rec. studio recordings, 1944-1956
IDIS 6603 [56.40]

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 III.

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.

Zane Turner

A historical treasure.