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Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) [21:05]
Fantasia para un Gentilhombre for guitar and orchestra (1954) [22:20]
Concierto Serenata (1954) [22:50]
Zarabanda Lejana [5:00]
Narciso Yepes (guitar)
Nicanor Zabaleta (harp)
Spanish National Orchestra/Ataulfo Argenta (Concierto), Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (Fantasia)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ernst Märzendorfer (Serenata)
rec. stereo
ALTO ALC1379 [71:41]

Andrés Segovia - Guitar Fantasia
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Fantasia para un Gentilhombre (1954) [21:31]
Manuel PONCE (1882-1948)
Concierto del Sur (1941) [25:23]
Capriccio Diabolico [9:10]
Manuel PONCE
Theme, Variations and Finale [7:55]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Prelude No.1 in E minor [4:20]
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Asturias - Leyenda [6:24]
Andrés Segovia (guitar)
Symphony of the Air/Enrique Jorda
rec. stereo 1952-58
ALTO ALC1395 [75:00]

These two discs, only available separately, continue two themes already established by Alto. In the case of the all-Rodrigo disc there is already a similarly top-tank Bonell/Stinton CD. As for Ségovia (1898-1987) you can reach back into Alto's catalogue and find two other discs (review review) devoted to his artistry. Not that the label stints on guitar coverage; it also has Bream and Williams collections.

The Rodrigo-fest that is the first disc has his top and second-top works in performances and recordings that began life on what are now Universal labels. Yepes was a darling of Deutsche Grammophon and, whether intended or not, was an early riposte to the popularity of Bream and Williams on RCA. The sound is warm as toast and the movements of the Fantasia lean towards languid luxury. This is advantageous in presenting ideas with a chiselled precision. The Concierto and Fantasia both feature a Spanish orchestra and Spanish conductors: Argenta and Frühbeck de Burgos, both renowned in this and related repertoire. Even the Concierto Serenata, from about the same time as the Fantasia, has the elite choice Spanish national, Nicanor Zabaleta, at the harp. He was another DG stalwart though here in partnership with a German radio orchestra and Märzendorfer who, in years to come, was to give a radio revival of Franz Schmidt's opera Fredegundis. The way they mark out for the Rodrigo harp concerto majors, in the outer movements, on vitality, hyper-active almost machine-like intricacy and links with neo-classical Stravinsky. The middle movement is quite a passionate thing and Zabaleta enters into the spirit of the thing. The sound on this disc is lively and natural through all three concertante works. Segovia takes the stage for the guitar solo Zarabanda Lejana. This receives a deliberate and carefully limned in reading and the recording is more than acceptably close so that every slowly curved cell-group registers. It makes a soothing Beecham-style close to the disc.

As for more modern Rodrigo alternatives I have a lot of time for the work of the Romero brothers and for Moreno and others in an almost exhaustive Rodrigo box on EMI 4 discs and 2 discs and Brilliant Classics.

The new Segovia disc lets the light back into his recordings from the late 1950s. The Rodrigo Fantasia was written 15 years after the Aranjuez concerto. Segovia recorded and premiered it four years after it was written so it was still fresh on the scene. This four-movement work often jostles with the Aranjuez concerto but here stands on its own two feet. This is a very good recording and the playing emerges from total silence. It is unarguably clear. An iconic performance, then, of a work where Rodrigo mixed his regard for antiquity with modern sensibilities though often letting the former have prominence. It works well with Warlock's Capriol Suite and the Julian Bream Consort's rendering of Britten's Courtly Dances from Gloriana. The little details are tellingly rendered including such fine points as the flute/oboe 'shrieks' in the third movement. On the down-side the treble can sound hard when the full body of strings is engaged. This facet is common to the Ponce but not relevant to the four solo pieces.

Mexican Manuel Ponce's guitar concerto Concierto del Sur is a personal favourite and I do urge you to hear it if you don't already know it. Each of the three movements is full of romantic ear-endearing ideas. As it is played by the work's dedicatee the recording, originally coupled on LP, with Rodrigo's Fantasia, is historically significant. I doubt it has sounded much better than it does here. It should be noted that there are a few neatly backgrounded surface clunks at the start of the saturated, almost Waltonian, irresistible romance of the finale. If, for me, this does not supplant John Williams on RCA (soon to reappear on a massive Previn reissue box) the music still steps out with mastery, vitality and poetry.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco has achieved more prominence and recordings in the last ten years. Here, however, Segovia is heard playing not one of his guitar concertos but the Capriccio Diabolico. This is a homage to Paganini who was a composer with an affection for the guitar. Segovia's instrument sounds persuasively plangent. Its occasional Karas-like (zither) tones speak well to us across more than six decades in Ponce's Theme, Variations and Finale. The cool aristocratic temperature of the Villa-Lobos Prelude - the first of five written in 1940 - is not relentlessly sustained. The music rises to moments of fiery animation always to be drawn back as if by centripetal force to a touching and far from arrogant nobility. The recital ends with the only non-twentieth century piece here which is Granados's magically atmospheric, tremulously, rapid-pulsed Asturias.

If Segovia is your mark then you will also want to look at a fairly old DG Segovia Collection on 4 CDs and, if you can find them, three Naxos volumes of his recordings in the USA and a similarly old issue on Regis. Many composers wrote for Segovia but only a few of the pieces submitted to him were actually taken up. The work of sifting and assaying so much original music has been taken up successfully by Roberto Moronn Perez on Reference Recordings.

Notes by Peter Avis (Segovia) and James Murray (Rodrigo) fill in the detail around some very pleasing listening experiences once your ears are attuned, in the case of the Segovia disc, to sound from 1958. There is only so much that Paul Arden Taylor who mastered the recordings on both discs can do for sound of that vintage. However, what he has done is thoroughly healthy and no obstacle to enjoyment.

Rob Barnett

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