, August 2008
On this fifth volume in the Naxos series of Segovia’s American recordings from the 1950s, we meet him in music by composers of his own generation – composers of many nationalities who were encouraged to write specifically for Segovia. This started as early as the 1920s, when he was still at the outset of his international career and continued until the very end. Segovia gave his last concert in Miami on 4 April 1987, aged 94, and died less than two months later.
Florence-born Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a prolific composer in several genres. Between 1940 and 1956 he lived in the US and wrote great amounts of film music, while during the same period composing over seventy concert works. He also wrote, from 1932 until his death in 1968, over one hundred works for guitar, including a sonata, concertos and sundry pieces of various kinds. Capriccio diabolico was written in 1935 after Segovia had suggested he should write a homage to Paganini, who himself played the guitar. The opening of the capriccio quotes the Campanella theme from Paganini’s second violin concerto, and in the coda he repeats the theme. It is a dashing work, really more Spanish than Italian, melodious and charming and technically challenging. In the middle there is even a tremolo passage.
Tonadilla (on the name of Andrés Segovia) was written in 1954 and recorded the following year. It is a kind of ‘musical postcard’ and a sterling composition; Segovia plays it with affection. The most extended work on this disc is Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Quintet for guitar and string quartet, composed in February and March 1950. It opens with a lively and finely wrought Allegro, followed by a very beautiful Andante mesto, where the guitar, in true chamber music fashion, has both soloist and accompanist functions. The third movement is a joyfully marching Scherzo – utterly charming – and then the composition is rounded off with an Allegro con fuoco, rhythmic and spiritual music, truly entertaining. ‘I would say it is written almost in a Schubertian vein – Schubert has always been one of my favourite composers’, wrote Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Segovia premiered the work at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana of Siena in Italy in 1951, where he also recorded it a few years later. I have heard a relatively modest amount of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s oeuvre and what I have heard I have liked but the music here surpasses anything I had heard earlier.
The Spanish cellist and composer Gaspar Cassado, a pupil of Pablo Casals, taught at summer courses in Siena from 1946. When Andrés Segovia later came there he wrote the little Sardana for him as a celebration. The sardana is the national dance of Catalonia, a lively circle dance, fluently played by the dedicatee.
Alexandre Tansman was Polish but lived in Paris from 1920 – except for the war years when he lived in the US – and became a French citizen in 1958. He met Segovia in 1925, was immediately fascinated by the guitar and was one of the first non-Spanish composers to write for Segovia. The five-movement Cavatina from the early 1950s is designed along the lines of a suite by a baroque composer. Musically it is not a pastiche but very personal in utterance. The Sarabande is beautiful, the Scherzino is played tremolo and the finale, Danza Pomposa, which he added on Segovia’s demand as an exciting end, is rhythmically and contrapuntally interesting – a real tour de force.
Joaquin Rodrigo is known to all music lovers for his Concierto de Aranjuez, but he wrote a great amount of guitar music between 1926 and 1987. Zarabanda lejana (Distant Sarabande) belongs to his earliest works and is dedicated to late Renaissance Spanish composer Luis Milán. It is built around rather heavy chords but with ornamentation on the top string. Two masters meet across the centuries.
The Argentinean guitarist Jorge Gómez Crespo is probably best known for the piece played here, Norteña, a beautiful Indian lullaby. The works of the youngest composer represented on this disc, Venezuelan Antonio Lauro, have been revived lately, not least through a series on Naxos, but it was thanks to Andrés Segovia that his compositions were first heard outside Latin America. His waltzes have become popular, livelier than the European variants.
The Swiss composer Hans Haug also had connections with Siena, where a guitar concertino by him won a first prize in 1950. He was inspired to write more for solo guitar and Segovia added these two pieces to his repertoire. Especially the Alba has a serene beauty that made me return to it several times.
Segovia was over sixty when he recorded these pieces but his technical command is spotless and he infuses the music with a warmth that totally belies his rather blasé appearance. The recordings were quite good in their original and they have been well transferred and restored.
It is extra valuable to have these works by some eminent 20th century composers played by their dedicatee.