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The Art of Narciso Yepes: Lectures on Mastery of the Guitar
Narciso Yepes (ten string classical guitar, 18th century six-string guitar, Renaissance lute, vihuela)
Dialogue: Spanish, Subtitles: English
rec. RTV, 1970
SFM SFMDVD223 [2 DVDs: 150 mins]

Narciso Yepes holds a pre-eminent place in the annals of 20th century classical guitar. During a period when only a few guitarists could play to the standard set by Andres Segovia, Yepes was renowned for his musicianship, technical prowess and innovative approach to the instrument.

Yepes was born in 1927 in Marchena, Spain. From the age of four years Yepes affinity for the guitar was noted by his father who, when Yepes was six years old, purchased a guitar for him and took him to nearby Lorca for lessons with Jesus Guevara. When he was thirteen, Yepes was accepted to study guitar at the Conservatoria de Valencia, and two year later he became a student of the pianist and composer Vicente Asencio.

Yepes made his debut at the Teatro Serrano in Valencia. After a meeting with the famous conductor Ataulfo Argenta who encouraged him to move to Madrid, he subsequently commenced his solo career on Dec 16, 1947 playing the Concierto de Aranjuez. In 1950 Yepes moved to Paris where he met such luminaries as George Enescu and Walter Gieseking with whom he studied interpretation. He also studied informally with Nadia Boulanger.

Yepes became a well-known and respected international recording and concert artist. His arrangement of the famous Spanish Romance (Anon.) for guitar was included in the film Jeux Interdits (Forbidden Games) by Rene Clement. His marriage to Marysia Szumlakowska in 1958 produced three children.Yepes' health rapidly deteriorated during the 1990s and he died on May 3, 1997 after a long battle with lymphoma.

The title of this set may lead some to conclude that the art of actually playing the guitar is specifically addressed in the lectures; not so. Yepes deals at some length with the music he presents, its interpretation, and the instruments he employs including early six-string guitar, vihuela, and Renaissance lute. In reality the DVDs comprise a B&W record of a series of six salon-type concerts in which he plays for an audience of around twenty people. The extensive dialogue is in Spanish with English sub-titles provided.

One of the things for which Yepes is best remembered is his later development of the ten-string classical guitar rather than the traditional six-string instrument which he played in his earlier career. In conjunction with the luthier Jose Ramirez III, Yepes developed a guitar with four extra bass strings. In addition to the standard tuning for the other six strings, these four are usually tuned to C, A#, G# and F#. This not only facilitates a lot of earlier music being played without re-arrangement/transcription, but also increases sympathetic string vibration, resulting in an overall louder sound to the instrument.

There is an ample discography attesting to the superior capabilities of Yepes, but in some areas of these DVDs the playing could be described as ‘patchy’. The best example comes in Asturias by Albeniz where the challenging chordal passages are poorly executed, and unacceptable even by the standards of that day. Yepes made his debut on the ten-string guitar in 1964 and subsequent early recordings do not always demonstrate a smooth transition to the new instrument. A slightly earlier recording, played on a six-string instrument, London Globe GLB 1024, reflects a much smoother and more precise execution of the repertory. A YouTube clip (1989) of his rendition of Asturias played on ten-string guitar shows none of the deficiencies to which the music is subjected in the review DVD. One may conjecture that the deficiencies noted in the review DVDs are a result of the transitional challenges in moving to the ten-string guitar, or just a ‘bad night’ of which even Segovia had his share.

Although historically important, the playing on the review DVDs often belies the mastery of the instrument for which Yepes was renowned in his recorded music. His outstanding recording Sor: 24 Etudes for Guitar, DG 139 364 (1968) on ten-string guitar, is an inspiration for all who aspire mastery of the classical guitar. His ability to acknowledge a melodic line in the music was unique, and musically and technically there is no finer rendition of the Sor Study No. 19 (Opus 29 No. 13) than that which appears on this DG recording. Atypically we even get the repeat, excluded from many editions, including Segovia’s.

If you are a collector of historically important guitar material, this DVD set is a must. If you want to hear Narciso Yepes at his very best, it is not to be found here.
Zane Turner

Baroque music
Sylvius Leopold Weiss: Fantasia, Zarabanda y Giga
J.S. Bach: Suite BWV 996

Three Great Spanish Guitarists
Gasper Sanz: Suite
Miguel LLobet: La Filla del Marxant, Canco del Lladre
Emilio Pujol: El Abejorro

Guitarists composers
Fernando Sor: Estudio Op.6 No.11, Tema y Variaciones, Minueto,
Estudio Op 60 No 25
Francisco Tarrega: Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Mauro Giuliani: Sonata Op 15 first movement.

Renaissance Music
John Dowland: Queen Elizabeth’s Galliard
Adrien le Roy: Passemezzo y Branle
Luis Milan: Pavane
Diego Pisador: Pavana muy llana para taner y Villanesca “La Cortesia”
Saltarello (Anon)

Transcriptions for Guitar
Isaac Albeniz: Malaguena Op.165 No.3, Asturias , Torre Bermeja
Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata L 352
Manuel de Falla: Farruca

Contemporary music
Manuel de Falla: Hommage au Tombeau de Claude Debussy
Joaquin Turina: Fandanguillo
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Prelude No 1
Salvador Barcarisse: Passapie de la Suite romantica,
Vicente Asencio: La Seranidad del Colecticio intimo
Mauricio Ohana: Tiento

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