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Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, April 2008

This disc covers Segovia’s recordings of music from the late renaissance and the baroque – real or faked. In the ’fifties little of this repertoire was known beyond a fairly narrow circle of specialists. Segovia made an important contribution to spread this often exquisite music – not to every Tom, Dick and Harry but at least to general lovers of classical music. The period performance movement was in its infancy and to Segovia it felt natural to adapt the music for the modern six-stringed guitar instead of taking up the baroque guitar or the lute. The consequence was that he distanced himself from the originals. He also performed the works in a romanticized manner with heavy accents, wide dynamics and freedom of tempo. For today’s listener who have grown accustomed to more authentic playing he can appear dated, heavy and rather unsubtle. Take Luys Milan’s Pavana III as an enlightening example. It is energetic and played with great conviction but rather four-square. I only had to take down Michael Tillman’s disc A Renaissance, which I reviewed a couple of years ago, to find something different. He too plays this music on a modern guitar and in his own transcriptions, so the comparison is apt. This music is softer, more gracious and intimate but also at the lower volume and less outgoing approach he finds lots of nuances and he invites us to listen, not by shouting but by whispering: “a well-needed counterpoint to the terror, the catastrophes and the turmoil in the world around us” as I wrote at the time.

The difference between the two players is at least as big as when comparing a full symphony orchestra and a small period group in Bach. Segovia finds his own subtleties and I can well think of people who prefer his earthbound approach. He plays Mudarra (tr. 5) with more light and shade and Dowland is OK but the anonymous Gaillard, formerly attributed to Dowland, is robust almost to a fault.

The Aria by Frescobaldi is originally for harpsichord and a set of variations on a theme that probably is Frescobaldi’s own. Transcribing music from one instrument to another, further distances it from its own time and the flexible tempos that Segovia adopts are actually advised by the composer. Also Louis Couperin’s Passacaglia is for a keyboard instrument. It is sensitively played but with heavy accents in places.

The six 16th century pieces are from an anthology by the Italian 19th century musicologist Oscar Chilesotti and Segovia was very fond of these miniatures as concert-openers. They are melodious and attractive, the last one – a lively dance over an ostinato bass – was composed by Vincenzo Galilei, father of physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Robert de Visée was a court musician in Paris between 1680 and 1732 – a long time indeed. This was the era of Louis XIV and eventually he also became the guitar tutor of Louis XV. This is also music that sounds best on a baroque instrument but the Sarabande is a fine piece also on a modern instrument and so is the lively Gavotte.

Readers may wonder what 20th century composer Manuel Ponce is doing in this company but both the suites represented here were written by request from Segovia in a somewhat Bach-like style. Since Bach was well-known even in the early 1930s he instead ascribed them to Alessandro Scarlatti and Sylvius Leopold Weiss. According to Miguel Alcázar, the editor of Ponce’s complete music for guitar, attributed them to other composers ‘in order to avoid playing only works by Ponce in his recitals. The ‘Scarlatti’ pieces (tr. 22, 23) are marred by an over-resonant recording that diffuses the sound almost to distortion. This is also the case with Domenico Scarlatti’s charming Sonata (tr. 25). In the Minuet by Rameau one can clearly hear that the piece was conceived for harpsichord – or so I believed when hearing it but it is actually a transcription of a dance interlude from the opera Platée. I don’t think anyone could believe the concluding ‘Weiss’ pastiches to be early 17th century but they are attractive pieces – Weiss was a great composer of lute music! – and the Allemande and Gigue are riveting.

Those who have been collecting this Segovia series can safely invest in this volume too but those who feel uncertain whether they will appreciate his dated performance style should listen before buying. From an historical point of view it might be argued that this music wouldn’t have been performed at all fifty years ago if it hadn’t been for Segovia championing it. Thus they are valuable documents and add something significant to his discography.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2008

I suppose purists will see this as a return to the bad old days when guitarists played music that should have been performed on period instruments. Andres Segovia was a man of his time, and such arrangements were commercial and in demanded by his listeners. For those just coming to this series of material taken from discs issued in the 1950’s, let me recap that when the young Andres fell in love with the guitar, the advanced tuition he required was not available to him. So he simply set about teaching himself to the point where he became the world’s greatest exponent of the instrument. Born in the Andalusia region of Spain in 1893, he gave his first major solo recital at the age of sixteen, and then set out on an incredible career that was to take him around the world. That the interest in guitar playing would have grown over a period of time is indisputable, but without Segovia it may not have reached today’s level of technical achievement. He did not live long enough to see the extent of that development, and much of his public concerts were given to transcriptions that would attract audiences who knew little about the classical guitar. The present release covers composers mainly working in the 16th and 17th centuries, and ranges from ‘legitimate’ realisations of music for the Baroque guitar by Luys Milan, to the ‘highly questionable’ arrangements of harpsichord music by Scarlatti and an orchestral piece by Rameau. Most are by Segovia, and to modern ears they sound clumsy in Segovia’s red-blooded approach, his left hand at times stretched by his chosen tempos. In their midst are pieces in Baroque style by the 20th century, Manuel Ponce. The two pastiche Suites had been requested by Segovia, and their true origin was not discovered until the 1960’s. The original recordings were made by Decca in New York over the five years following 1952 and issued in Europe on the Brunswick label. There are marked changes in ambiance and quality as we move around the many originals, as you will discover in the rough-hewn sound of two pieces by Narvaez recorded in 1957 - the excerpts on the same disc from Ponce’s Second Suite being a real horror. You can equally detect how Segovia’s playing had declined over those five years. To balance any disappointments we have the most attractive sound from a 1954 disc that included Frescobaldi’s Aria detta la Frescobalda.  The transfers are good, though low level rumble cannot be eliminated.

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