A Review of

Andres Segovia, In Concert

Peter Kun Frary, Professor of Music • University of Hawaii, Leeward


Spanish guitars were made for summer nights and stone-paved courtyards. The courtyard of the Alhambra Hotel in Honolulu may not be the Alhambra of Spain, and Saturday's summer night was marked by brief showers, but this didn't make any difference to the audience at the first of three Guitar Society concerts in the Music for a Summer Evening series. The courtyard was filled to capacity-plus, with spare chairs wedged into just about every corner. Moreover, the audience stayed, despite the intermittent drizzle, to demand--and receive--a double encore at the finale of a thoroughly satisfying opening for the Guild's 50th season.

The eminent guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia--now 106 years old--was the auspicious choice as guest artist for the evening. Although the Spanish maestro had to be helped onto the stage, he displayed a pleasant, unassuming stage presence and a passionate, articulate style.

The popular Mille Regrets (1000 Regrets) by Josquin des Préz provided an elegant but somewhat somber opening. Diferencias sobre "Guardame las Vacas" (Variations on Keep Watch on the Cows) followed and proved to be especially exciting due to rapid passage work, register changes and spirited melody. Both these popular Renaissance airs were arranged by Luis de Narváez and published in his 16th-century vihuela book. Although these pieces were enriched by the guitar's darker and more robust sonority, Segovia's articulate technique managed to retain intriguing hints of the more delicately colored lute originals, making for a fresh but slightly understated opening.

The Three Cuban Airs by the contemporary Cuban composer Léo Brouwer--marked by bolder tones rendered in an introspective, almost improvisational manner--made an engaging contrast to the opening Narváez and an attractive bridge to the richer sonority of the three Fernando Sor works that closed the program's first half. The first Sor work, Minuet in D, although well performed, was musically slight--it sounded like a 'parlor waltz' rather than a courtly dance. However, the second Sor work, Andante Largo, was especially beautiful: the bell-like mini-scales in the outer sections provided an exquisite contrast to the gently melodic center section.

Maxixe by the Brazilian composer João Guimarães opened the second half with exciting passage work, syncopations and harmonics. Next, the two dances by Johann Kaspar Mertz, Polacca Op. 5, No. 3 and Tarantelle Op. 13, No. 6, revealed Segovia's most intense emotions of the evening. The bold, rollicking phrases of the Polacca and the sprightly paced Tarantelle were rendered full-voiced and splendidly resonant in a fine Segovia finale that evoked sustained applause and calls for "encore," which, in turn, were rewarded with by a Spanish folk song and a Scarlatti sonata. Segovia, visually tired after an almost flawless concert, faltered somewhat in the sonata but managed a smooth recovery--in spite of the pouring rain only a few feet in front of the stage! A handsome end to a totally enjoyable concert.

I expected very little from a musician over a hundred years old. However, his music revealed no traces of his age: his tone was clear and vibrant, his expression was sensitive and impassioned, and his technique was nothing short of perfect. Moreover, the program was masterfully arranged with the right amounts of musical and stylistic contrast between numbers. The 'living legend' status of the Andalusian virtuoso is well founded. Segovia is a vibrant and living example of a wonderful remark George Bernard Shaw once made: "The greatest thing in life is to die young--but delay it as long as possible." At the young age of 106 years, Segovia and his music continue to maintain a youthful vitality, intellectual vigor and, above all, joie de vivre.

©Copyright 2000 by Peter Kun Frary • All Rights Reserved


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