The Concierto de Aranjuez was arguably not the first concerto
written for guitar during the magnificent renaissance of the
instrument in the twentieth century. It did however become the
one most revered and loved, that crossed genre into jazz and
was adapted into a number of different musical contexts. The
poet/songwriter Rod McKuen was inspired to write lyrics -
Inside of Me - for accompaniment by the adagio movement.
Even tenor, Andrea Bocelli managed to include a version of the
adagio in his repertoire.
Written in 1939, the premiere performance by its dedicatee,
Regino Sainz de la Maza, was in Barcelona on 9 November, the
Not surprisingly the second movement adagio attracted most attention
and is about the same length as the other two combined. The
concerto was written at a time when Rodrigo’s wife was
expecting their first child; the infant was stillborn. The adagio
movement was an expression of Rodrigo’s emotions and exchanges
with the Deity. There is a recurring motif; the cor anglais
first establishes the melody and the guitar answers with subsequent
responses by other instruments using the same motif. The movement
ends with a passage symbolic of the infant’s ascension
The Concierto de Aranjuez is coupled with another of Rodrigo’s
work for guitar and orchestra: Fantasia para un gentilhombre.
Composed in 1954, and dedicated to the gentilhombre of
the title, Andrés Segovia, the four movements are based
on the dances of lutenist Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710). Most of the
movements retain their original names. The work was commissioned
by Segovia and on 5 March 1958 he played the inaugural performance
in San Francisco; Enrique Jordá conducted the San Francisco
The review disc is interesting for several reasons, not the
least of which is that it represents the first solo recording
of an artist who has been eminent in his field for more than
three decades. Charles Ramirez was born in Gibraltar. The now
57 year old guitarist studied the guitar initially in Gibraltar
with William Gomez and then Narciso Yepes. In 1971 Ramirez entered
London’s Royal College of Music, studying guitar with
Patrick Bashford and composition with Stephen Dodgson; he was
the first ever guitar student at the College. In 1973 Ramirez
gave his first performance of the Concierto de Aranjuez, with
full orchestra. He was appointed Professor of Guitar at RCM
in 1978, a position he still holds.
A key challenge in recording the guitar with orchestra - or
indeed most instruments - is the balance between an instrument
with no sustain, low volume, and the power of an orchestra.
Some recordings give the impression of an orchestral recital
with accompaniment by the guitar; others sound as though the
parts were recorded discretely and then ‘pasted’
together later. One immediately evident virtue of the review
recording is an empathetic balance between orchestra and soloist,
without any sense of the guitar being swamped.
Overall the review recording is very well produced and engineered,
resulting in significant sonic excellence. The detail is such
that the reed sound of wind instruments is clearly audible [tr.
2, 6:45]. On appropriate reproducing equipment, a strong sense
of presence is evoked.
Charles Ramirez’s performance is laudable. In the Aranjuez
his rendition may not represent the highest level of technical
pyrotechnics recorded, but it is most musical and very sure-footed.
The soloist’s reading, highly complementary contributions
of the orchestra and the sonic qualities of the recording make
this a hard combination to beat.
The final work, Elogio de la guitarra, a three movement
composition in the manner of a sonata, displays Ramirez’s
prodigious capabilities as a soloist. Guitarists will be interested
to note that a different guitar was used in this part of the
recording; the guitar is by Italian maker, Renato Barone. In
the Aranjuez and Fantasia, Ramirez plays a guitar
by Spanish luthier, Teodoro Perez. The marked contrast in sound
is clearly evident. The different recording venues may also
accentuate this variance.
While not mentioned in the liner-notes, Charles Ramirez graciously
volunteered additional information about his choice of instruments
for this recording. Since 1973 he has exclusively played a particularly
outstanding instrument by Jose Romanillos. This guitar breaks
with the luthier’s tradition in that he did not include
a specific name for it on the label. The guitar ultimately developed
a problem resulting in bad intonation when played. This remained
unresolved at the time of the review recording, forcing a choice
of alternative instruments. This guitar has fortunately now
been restored to its former glory by the expert hands of luthier,
Peter Barton. There is a certain irony in waiting so long to
make a solo recording, and then not being able to use an instrument
favoured over thirty-seven years.
One of the best recordings of this repertoire, and well worth
the long wait.
Masterwork Index: Concierto