Audio Review: The Segovia
Peter Kun Frary, Professor of Music University of Hawaii, Leeward
.Audio Index Home Andrés Segovia. The Segovia Collection. Deutsche Grammophon, 2002. 4 CD Mono/Stereo. 471 430-2 (also available as individual CDs)
It's hard to get excited about rehashed compilations of Segovia's old Decca recordings. I own a slew of "digitally remastered" CDs from the 80s and 90s and they are truly terrible: thin, harsh, flat and nearly unlistenable. Thus, since the advent of the CD, the glory of his playing has been lost to an entire generation. The sonic magic of Segovia's Decca LPs, many of which I still own and play, got lost in the translation. It's a pity as Segovia is the most pivotable figure in the history of the guitar. I can't count the times my guitar students have remarked how disappointed they were over Segovia's playing after listening to an ill-conceived digitalization. "Sounds like it was recorded in a phone booth." He didn't change his strings too often did he?" "Modern players are a lot better aren't they?"And so forth. However, Deutsche Grammophon's 4 disk boxed set, "The Segovia Collection," has blown most of that out the window.
So what makes this Segovia compilation any different? First, since the 1980s there have been huge leaps in digitalization technology and remastering techniques. Earlier attempts suffered from bright EQ, excessive static and a flat sound stage. This collection was remastered from the original tapes at 96 kHz/24 bit, resulting in more detail than the older 44.1 kHz/16 bit standard of early digital recorders. And, finally, they have learned how to properly EQ a classical guitar! As a result most of these recordings simmer and breathe, once again capturing the magic of Segovia's guitar. The older mono remixes are a bit rough, but we are dealing with master tapes that predate the changeover to stereo recording during the 1950s. Of course none of these tracks can claim the same fidelity as modern digital recordings of Pepe Romero or Christopher Parkening.
Segovia didn't believe in editing finger noise out, unlike younger players whom go to great lengths to digitally excise them. Squeakless guitar recordings often make me I feel like I'm listening to an organ with a "guitar stop." It's not that I like squeaks. We do our best to minimalize them but they're an irrevocable part of the guitar's sound. With that said, these Segovia recordings are honest, natural and full bodied, but you always know you're listening to a guitar played by a human being. In other words, they are musically engaging and sonically clean enough that a little tape hiss or finger squeak is inconsequential.
So do these CDs sound better than the original Decca LPs? Generally, they do not but are close. For example, I have an original (mint!) LP issue of "Segovia: Ponce, Concieto del Sur Rodrigo, Fantasia para una Gentilhombre (Decca DL 10 027) and it has a little more sweetness, air and detail than the CD. Of course that LP was cut when the master tape was still fresh over 50 years ago! The remastered Decca recordings from the 1960s sound best while older efforts are somewhat thin. Nevertheless, these recordings are better than any remastered Segovia CD I've heard.
If you've been buying Segovia's remastered CDs, you probably have most of these recordings, although there are a few tracks not heard since the days of vinyl. Disk 1 contains:Rodrigo, Fantasía Para Un Gentilhombre For Guitar And Orchestra Ponce, Concierto Del Sur Boccherini, Concerto No.6 For Violoncello And Orchestra in D Major
I must say the remix of these concerti surprised me the most of all the disks. The orchestra is extremely vivid, full and spacious compared to earlier digitalizatons.
Disk 2 contains some of Segovia's heavier and rather romantic repertoire:Torroba, Castillos De España Torroba, Piezas Características Mompou, Suite Compostelana Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Sonata Omaggio A Boccherini Op. 77 Ponce, Allegro In A Major Esplá, Antaño: Estampa After A Traditional Children's Song Rodrigo, Fandango No.1 From 'Tres Piezas Españolas' - Allegretto
To my ears, Castillos De España is among Segovia's best performances in this collection. Moreover the audio quality and engineering is probably the best as well.
Disk 3 reveals Segovia's lighter side, featuring student pieces and nationalistic Spanish repertoire:De Murcia, Praelidium & Allegro Roncalli, Passacaglia & Capprici Armonici Sopra La Chitarra Spagnola Milan, 6 Panvans Aguado, Eight Lessons For The Guitar Sor, Minuets in C minor & C Major Sor, 9 Études Granados, Andaluza - Danza Española Op.37 No.5 & Danza Triste - Danza Española Op.37 No.10 & La Maja De Goya No.1 - From Tonadillas
Sonically this disk is uneven: some tracks have a little too much hiss (De Murcia), some tracks are a little dull (Aguado) while others have too much reverb (Sor, Minuets). Of course these tracks were gathered from diverse sources and eras in his life, so some unevenness is par for the course.
Finally, Disk 4 features the works of J.S. Bach:Allemande - From Suite For Lute In E Minor, BWV 996 Sarabande - From Partita For Lute In C Minor, BWV 997 Gigue - From Partita For Lute In C Minor, BWV 997 Sarabande - From Partita For Violin Solo No.1 In B Minor, BWV 1 Bourrée - From Partita For Violin Solo No.1 In B Minor, BWV 100 Double - From Partita For Violin Solo No.1 In B Minor, BWV 1002 Suite For Violoncello Solo No.3 In C Major - Prélude, BWV 1009 Suite For Violoncello Solo No.3 In C Major - Allemande, BWV 100 Suite For Violoncello Solo No.3 In C Major - Courante, BWV 1009 Suite For Violoncello Solo No.3 In C Major - Sarabande, BWV 100 Suite For Violoncello Solo No.3 In C Major - Bourrées I & II, B Suite For Violoncello Solo No.3 In C Major - Gigue, BWV 1009 Prélude - Suite For Violoncello Solo No.1 In G Major, BWV 1007 Gavotte I & II - Suite For Violoncello Solo No.6 In D Major, BW Chaconne - Partita For Violin Solo No.2 In D Minor, BWV 1004 Prelude For The Lute In C Minor, BWV 999 Gavotte En Rondeau - Partita For Violin Solo No.3 In E Major, B Fugue For Lute In G Minor, BWV 1000 Siciliano - Sonata For Violin Solo No.1 In G Minor, BWV 1001 Bourrée - Suite For Lute In E Minor, BWV 996
Unlike many modern players, Segovia preferred to cherry pick Bach movements from diverse suites and partitas. And, yes, his interpretation is romantic, teaming with tenuto, ritardando, rubatos and other devices of the late 19th century. I find this interpretation, although not authentic, is certainly epic, intense and telling of Segovia's personality.
Finally, The Segovia Collection is obviously a work of love by someone at Deutsche Grammophon. Besides going the extra mile in digitalization and remastering, the graphic design, packaging and program notes demonstrate care and attention to detail rarely seen. The outer box is the color of a spruce sound board and sports lasercut strings across an open sound hole. When you remove the CDs, Segovia's signature is visible through the sound hole! They enlisted the able pens of Graham Wade and John Lehmann-Hart to write extensive background notes, and filled the glossy pages with historical photographs of the maestro, surrounding culture and friends.
The Segovia Collection is the best sounding compilation of old Decca recordings I have heard. It's also an excellent cross-section of Segovia's work, offering younger generations a delicious glimpse into the work of a master long passed. This is a collection every classical guitar aficionado and student should own. Highly recommended.
©Copyright 2005 by Peter Kun Frary All Rights Reserved
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