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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Guitar Magician
see end of review for track listing
John Williams (guitar)
rec. 1959
ALTO ALC1253 [78:10]

John Williams was given his first guitar when he was four, and his father, who was a renowned jazz guitarist, taught him until the family returned to England in 1952. It was also that year that John, 11, met Andrés Segovia who saw his potential and invited him to his summer school in Sienna in Italy. He also studied for three years at the Royal College of Music in London. Not until he graduated in 1959 did the RCM set up a guitar department, which John Williams was invited to run.

In 1959 he also made his first recordings, for the Delysé label and it is material from those recordings that have been collected here. It is indeed extraordinary to find such mature Bach playing as here – and he was 18. He had in fact already made his professional debut at the Wigmore Hall in November 1958 and then he played several pieces that he was to record not long after, including the Bach suite recorded here. The liner-notes to Alto’s issue quotes The Times, where one can read: ‘already he has a remarkably well-developed technique; this was particularly evident in a transcription of three movements from a Bach cello suite where every detail was perfectly in place, and to his control he added most musical and stylish phrasing and tone-colouring …’ Which three movements he played I don’t know but all six on the recording are as perfect as one can ever hope to hear. The rhythmic precision, for instance, is a marvel.

The rest of the programme is a mixture of Spanish and Latin-American music with Tansman – born in Poland but living in France most of his life – and British doyen John Duarte, who’s also responsible for the transcription of the Bach suite. A lot of the music is rarely heard. Segovia is lavishly honoured with two of his own compositions and a Scarlatti transcription plus the fact that several of the other pieces were dedicated to him.

Some of the highlights:

Fernando Sor’s Variations on a theme of Mozart is a charmer, elegantly played. The theme is Das klinget so herrlich which Monostatos and his slaves sing in Die Zauberflöte. It sounds ‘herrlich’, indeed. There is also a short reference to Non più andrai from Le nozze di Figaro.
Segovia’s two compositions are outdone by the Humorada by his second wife Paquita Madriguera. A nice piece with a twist in the end.

Alexandre Tansman met Segovia at a dinner party in Paris in 1925 and he was one of the first to write a piece for the maestro. This Barcarolle is part of a Cavatina that Tansman wrote twenty-five years later and it was premiered by Segovia in June 1952 in Buenos Aires. It is a fine piece but rather noisy.

Llobet’s arrangement of Granados’ La Maja de Goya is nice – even though I miss the words. Venezuelan Antonio Lauro’s Vals criollo is an old favourite. He originally named it after his daughter Natalia, but when Segovia recorded it he used the more exotic title Vals criollo.

Mexican Manuel Ponce also met Segovia in the 1920s and wrote the charming Three Mexican Popular Songs for him. The twelve Etudes by Villa-Lobos, which he dedicated to Segovia, have become central in the standard repertoire for guitar and John Williams’ recording of No. 1 has become frequently played by the BBC.

Argentinean Jorge Gómez Crespo is perhaps the least known of the composers on this disc. He was for many years head of the Guitar Department of the Buenos Aires Conservatory. Norteña evokes the landscape and the people of northern Argentina and is a beautiful Indian lullaby.

The concluding work – and by far the longest on the disc – Variations on a Catalan Folksong was composed for John Williams in 1956 by John Duarte. It is full of contrasts. The finale is a true cascade of tones, sounding like at least two or three guitars.

Let me just add that most of the information in the above text has been culled from the liner-notes by Peter Avis.

John Williams has made literally hundreds of recordings but there is a special thrill to hear these 55-year-old recordings and find that the results of his first visits to the recording studio were as accomplished as his later and possibly more famous ones. He started at the top and remained there.

Göran Forsling

Track listing
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 – 1750)
Suite No. 3 for Cello, BWV 1009 (trans. John W. Duarte)
1. Prelude [3:56]
2. Allemande [4:02]
3. Courante [3:24]
4. Sarabande [2:47]
5. Bourée 1 & 2 [4:09]
6. Gigue [3:35]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685 – 1757)
7. Sonata in E minor (trans. Segovia) [2:58]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 - 1725)
8. Gavotte (trans. Miguel Ablóniz) [3:06]
Fernando SOR (1778 – 1839)
9. Variations on a theme of Mozart Op. 9 [6:42]
Andrés SEGOVIA (1893 – 1987)
10, Oración [3:11]
11. Estudio [2:06]
Paquita MADRIGUERA (1900 – 1965)
12. Humorada [1:48]
Alexandre TANSMAN (1917 – 1986)
13. Barcarolle [3:16]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867 – 1916)
14. La Maja de Goya (trans. Miguel Llobet) [4:44]
Antonio LAURO (1917 – 1986)
15. Vals Criollo [2:37]
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860 – 1909)
16. Torre Bermeja [4:05]
Manuel PONCE (1882 – 1948)
Three Mexican Popular Songs:
17. La Pajarera [1:34]
18. Por ti mi Corazón [3:10]
19. La Valentina [1:45]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887 – 1959)
20. Étude No. 1 [1:58]
Jorge GOMEZ CRESPO (1900 – 1971)
21. Norteña [3:25]
John W DUARTE (1919 – 2004)
22. Variations on Catalan Folk Song “Cancio del Llabre” [9:28]