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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, November 2008

Revisiting, as I have, so many of Segovia’s post-war American Deccas has been a decidedly enriching experience. This volume, which captures recordings made in 1952, 1954 and 1956, is no exception. The romantic transcriptions sound as natural in this context as do the Villa-Lobos Etudes—all part of Segovia’s alchemical powers to seduce and to move.

The Schumann Romanza for instance evokes deft colour and wit whilst the two Franck pieces make a good contrastive pair. The second, a Moderato, is the more interesting and to it the master guitarist brings a certain gravity. It’s when we reach the Grieg though that we can feel Segovia at his finest. The third of the Op.47 Lyric Pieces is marvellously sustained and etched with such evocative coloration that it seems bewitching.  The delicate cantabile at reduced dynamics of the Scriabin attests to other virtues as well—sensitive shaping of melodic lines.

But I suppose it’s the second half of the disc’s programme that moves us to altogether more authentically Segovian ground. The de Falla Debussy tribute is a study in mood and feeling. Then there is the biggest work here, the Fantasia-Sonata by the violinist Juan Manén. At not far short of twenty minutes this is quite a major statement. It has a slow introduction which in the slightly cavernous recording sounds ominous. There are contrastive sections, plenty of Flamenco strumming and lissom Iberian panache as well as some languid sun-drenched ones as well. It’s a good piece, dedicated ‘Por y para Andrés Segovia’ —lest anyone thinks this is any kind of transcription from a violin original—but it doesn’t quite sustain its length, enjoyable though it is.

There is a sequence of Villa-Lobos’s superb Etudes, recorded for Decca between 1952 and 1956. Despite the fact that this would seem superficially to be canonic Segovia repertoire the fact is that he came quite late to these etudes. No.3 in A  minor is tailor made for a Bachian such as Segovia, whilst No.1 in E minor—the last of this sequence of five to be recorded—is an intensely concentrated affair. Torroba is represented of course. His Sonatina is strongly rhythmic and clean-limbed whilst the three character pieces by the same composer that end the disc are evidence of Torroba’s gift for characterisation. I’d especially recommend Nocturno.

Graham Wade contributes his usual expert commentary and the transfers do justice to the characteristically accomplished performances.

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, October 2008

This sixth and last volume in the series of Andrés Segovia’s 1950s American recordings is divided between his transcriptions of 19th century Romantic composers and original works by some of his Spanish and South American contemporaries. None of the transcriptions is particularly well known but none the worse for that. Schumann’s Romanza is a really lovely song and Segovia plays it in an improvisatory manner with some well judged rubatos. Who would have thought that César Franck’s rather compact music could be successfully adopted for guitar? These two short pieces, originally for piano, are but they are also far removed from his usual style. Brahms’s waltz is a more natural choice and so is Grieg’s gently rocking Melody. All the transcriptions are expertly done.
Miguel Llobet was an important influence on the young Segovia, who learnt El Mestre directly from the composer. It is a delicate little song, the lyrics telling the story of the teacher who falls in love with his pupil and wants to marry her. Manuel de Falla’s Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy was his only composition for guitar and one of his most important works, which he later arranged for piano and also orchestrated. Uruguayan Carlos Pedrell’s light-hearted Guitarreo is in sharp contrast to the elegiac mood of the de Falla and gives the guitarist ample opportunities to display his technique.
The most extended work here, Joan Manén’s Fantasia-Sonata is a deeply satisfying composition with shifting moods. It only reveals its many depths after several sittings and returning to it proved very rewarding. Villa-Lobos wrote an amazing amount of music and not everything is a masterpiece. Etude No. 7 probably is, at least it is a tour-de-force of technical brilliance as played here but there is also great warmth in the lyrical middle section. As for Prelude No. 3—the one that Segovia initially dismissed in 1940—I can fully understand his reaction, since it doesn’t seem to get anywhere. Etude No. 1, on the other hand, is a fine piece.

Federico Moreno Torroba has long been a favourite of mine. A year ago I reviewed two recitals devoted to his guitar music, one of them a reissue of a Telarc disc from the 1990s with David Russell —a wholly delightful cross-section of Torroba’s guitar oeuvre, which was a Bargain of the Month. Some of the works on that disc also appear here with Segovia, who had a very close relationship with the composer. It says a lot of Russell’s accomplishment that he is more than a match for the old master, but it is extremely valuable to have this music with the dedicatee—there is no doubt about the authenticity of the playing. Comparing their respective versions of the wonderful Sonatina—one of Torroba’s foremost compositions—it is interesting to note that Segovia is slightly faster in the outer movements while he is more expansive in the central Andante. Interpretatively they are both masterly. For both Madroños and Nocturno they choose identical tempos and Segovia rounds off the disc, and the series, with the fresh and vital Serenata burlesca. This was published in 1928, two years after Nocturno, which was one of the first pieces Torroba wrote for him.

The sound is good for its age and Segovia scholar Graham Wade contributes well written and exhaustive notes. A self-recommending issue.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2008

This is the sixth and final volume of the American recordings made by Andres Segovia in New York in the 1950’s. Born in Andalusia in 1893, he found that his love of the guitar soon took him past the technique of available mentors, and could only continue by teaching himself. He was to become the father of the modern guitar world, establishing a virtuosity that others have since emulated. In making the guitar more fashionable, Segovia had to resort to transcriptions of works that audiences would recognise, and he did not have the mass of original compositions that today’s performers enjoy. The first part of the present disc is Segovia’s arrangement of piano pieces and songs by Schumann, Franck, Brahms, Grieg and Scriabin, some more successful than others. The remainder includes the Sonatina by Torroba, Etudes and Preludes by Villa-Lobos and Manuel de Falla’s only score for solo guitar, Homenaje, ‘Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy’. That the early part of the disc often sounds so uninspired comes as a surprise, as Segovia must have oft used the works in concert. Even Grieg’s Melody from the Lyric Pieces is lumpy and lacking in shape. It comes as a relief to reach track 7, Miguel Llobet’s El Mestre, where the music and the instrument sit happily together. From therein the disc is well worth having, as we have over sixty minutes of guitar magic, and includes one of the instrument’s most haunting melodies in Villa-Lobos’s First Prelude. Already turned sixty, Segovia was having better days than others, but was on top form for Torroba’s Sonatina, getting around the mercurial passages with an easy brilliance. The original recordings were made by Decca between 1952 and 1956, and issued in Europe on the Brunswick label. Alan Bunting’s restoration is another piece of Naxos excellence, though he cannot do anything with Manen’s Fantasia-Sonata in a dreadful December 1956 session and seemingly never internationally released.

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