The most famous classical guitarist in the world, and the one whose name has become synonymous with the guitar, is Andrés Segovia. Among aficionados of the guitar the Spanish surname Sainz de la Maza is just as familiar. Two brothers, both guitarists/composers, bore that name: Regino and his younger sibling Eduardo.
Regino Sainz de la Maza (RSM) began playing the guitar at the age of ten, and studied that instrument, and the piano, with a number of illustrious teachers. Aged eighteen, he gave his inaugural concert at Teatro Arriaga in Bilbao. In 1921, following his first Madrid concert a year earlier, RSM toured South America, giving ninety concerts. Following tours of France (1927) and the UK (1928), in 1933 he returned for a concert tour of South America.
Internationally, RSM is remembered for the two pre-eminent things. There was his appointment in 1935 as first Professor of Guitar at Madrid Conservatory. Second, he was the guitarist who gave the inaugural performance of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez on 6 November 1940. One can never be sure of the exact circumstances nor why Rodrigo dedicated his concerto to RSM. One story suggests that Rodrigo initially showed the score to Segovia, who was critical and demonstrated little enthusiasm for the work.
As will be evidenced in the review disc, RSM compositions are idiomatic to the guitar and often reflect his Spanish identity through inspiration from Castilian and Andalusian folksong. In the tradition of the Spanish masters Sor and Aguado, who preceded him, RSM wrote studies for the guitar that combine didactic challenges with delightful melodies. In writing of Idilio and Estudio in A Minor one observer noted: “these combine an understanding of the guitar that is nothing short of genius.”
At a time when the guitar repertory was considered deficient, and Segovia was seeking new material with missionary zeal, he totally ignored the opera of Regino and Eduardo Sainz de la Maze, neither recording it, nor including any in his concert programmes. This same indifference that extended to the Concierto de Aranjuez, may have had its genesis in Rodrigo’s dedication of his famous concerto to RSM. It may also have been fuelled by personal rivalry.
RSM had many famous and notable students, but the two most distinguished were the Venezuelan, Alirio Diaz, and the Spanish master, José Luis González (1932-1998). JLG met his future teacher at the workshop of Hernandez and Aguado. Circa 1956 he commenced private lessons that would continue into the early 1960s.
Regarding his distinguished pupil, RSM wrote:
“Of the unique gifts that are endowed in the guitarist José Luis González, I would first stress above all his magnificent musicianship. This quality, so rare among guitarists, is what adds value to his interpretations and assures him of an eminent position, if not the highest, among the current generation of guitarists.
Madrid, Oct 1962”
This endorsement could often be found in the concert programmes of JLG.
JLG included a number of pieces by RSM in his recordings for CBS Australia from the early 1960s. I am aware of no other recording of Idilio or Estudio in A Minor than included in his recording, Spanish Guitar Music - CBS BR 255147, now regrettably long deleted. His quite marvellous interpretations can be heard on YouTube (listen).
During a 1994 interview with Colin Copper of Classical Guitar magazine, Alirio Diaz described RSM as “a great composer; very inspiring in the elements of Spain” and from whom “he learned the interpretation, form and colour of Spanish music”. Diaz recorded and frequently used examples of his music in concerts.
Franz Halász was born in Chicago, USA in 1964. He received his first guitar and violin tutelage at the age of eight, and completed his studies with Ansgar Krause, Werner Kämmerling and Eliot Fisk at the Cologne College of Music in 1991, achieving the distinction, Summa cum Laude. His international career accelerated in 1993 when he won First Prize at the Andrés Segovia competition in Spain, and the Seto-Ohashi Competition in Japan. He has an extensive discography of guitar music by Joaquín Turina, Toru Takemitsu and the complete guitar works of Hans Werner Henze (review review). He has also recorded duets for guitar and piano with Débora Halász These include the music of Carulli (Ferdinando and Gustavo - two volumes: review), Shostakovich, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Santorsola and Hans Haug.
The initial reaction on listening to this entire disc several times, was one of privilege in at last having heard all these treasures played so capably, both musically and technically. Nineteen pieces in total are presented, some of which have never before appeared on commercial recordings.
One may ask why it has taken so long for someone to make a recording dedicated to this music? Considered by many to be no longer ‘fashionable’, it takes an individual of vision, good musical taste and courage to sift through the often-considered detritus of the past, and identify these masterpieces. Last, but not least, it is only in the hands of a player of the calibre of Franz Halász that these gems shine so illustriously.
Played on high end equipment, it will be immediately evident that the sound of this CD has a rather veiled, nasal quality. This disc was not produced in the same location, or by the same team responsible for the majority of the Naxos classical guitar discs. This may, in part, explain the inferior sonic quality, particularly evident in the flamenco-inspired pieces such as Rondeña, Solea, Alegrias, and Seguidilla-Sevillana andatypical of that generally encountered on Naxos guitar discs. Traditional cypress flamenco guitars endow the sound with crispness, bite and clarity in the voices. Being of similar construction, the traditional classical guitar is capable of reproducing equivalent sounds, albeit more sonorous.
This audio deficiency is also characteristic of modern lattice-braced guitars currently so popular among concert and recording artists; it can be found on the more recent recordings of David Russell. Assuming he employs his favoured Matthias Dammann cedar guitar, this instrument can be identified as the source of veiled sound; greater volume at the expense of clarity.
With the kind assistance of Franz Halász, I am able to identify the guitar used on the review disc as a cedar instrument from the hands of German luthier, Matthias Dammann, 2010. In an earlier recording (BIS CD-717) Halász plays a traditional guitar by Kazuo Sato, 1964. The sound here is very crisp, clear and focused. We may thus conclude that the sonic deficiency on the review disc is directly attributable to the instrument used.
The concept that music from a certain country is most successfully interpreted by musicians who are native, is not new, and controversial. On the review disc we find music, much of it deep-rooted in Spanish folksong, and composed by a Spaniard, being played by a German guitarist, on a German-made guitar.
In comparative terms, what would be the mooted result if a guitarist with the following profile played the same music: Spanish by birth, a long-term student of RSM, using a guitar by Jose Ramirez III, the most famous of all Spanish luthiers? Would it be superior?
To make the comparison is relatively simple: just listen to the recordings of JLG on which he included a number of RSM pieces common to the review disc. Is the result any better, or just different from the renditions on the review disc? That is a matter of opinion. The tempi employed by JLG are faster; Idilio and Study in A minor utilize more judicious rubato and possess a poetic component that is both beguiling and inimitable. The Rondeña embodies the very soul and spirit of its Spanish origins and is the best version yet to be recorded.
These observations should in no way detract from the excellent renditions by Halász. Spaniards may play Spanish music differently, but any other conclusion is subjective.
The 1977 recording by John Williams, dedicated entirely to the music of Agustín Barrios, was a watershed in the revival of this composer and his music. It is hoped that, at a time when some of the modern repertory for guitar has ’lost its way’, this new recording will engender a greater interest and appreciation for RSM, and his music.
Franz Halász plays superbly; an absolute must for students of the guitar.
Spanish Guitar Music - Jose Luis Gonzalez CBS BR 255147
The Art of Jose Luis Gonzalez Vol. 1 Sony 2BAC 1184
El Testament D’Amelia - Jose Luis Gonzalez Sony SRCR 8967
Franz and Débora Halász - BIS CD-717
And a second review ...
‘It weeps for distant / things. / Hot southern sands / yearning for white camellias.’ Describing ‘The weeping of the guitar’, Spanish poet (and friend of Regino Sáinz de la Maza) Federico García Lorca evokes an adoring lament and ceaseless longing for Spain in his lyrical poetry. In this CD, with Rioja-ruddied cheeks, the composer and the guitarist brim with flamenco-feeling.
These compositions reflect a humble background, the influences of Miguel Llobet and Manuel de Falla, experience as a performer, and the composer’s Spanish identity. Ricardo Iznaola, Sáinz de la Maza’s student, observed: ‘As a composer, he wrote exclusively for the guitar in a stylised idiom that drew heavily on Castilian and Andalusian folk song’. On this CD, the German guitarist Franz Halász pays tribute to these central tenets of the composer’s intention and style.
Lorca, commenting on Sáinz de la Maza’s charismatic personality and charm when performing in Granada, stated that: ‘Like Llobet and Segovia, he is a knight errant who, with his guitar over his shoulder, travels through country after country, absorbing everything and leaving the places through which he passes full of ancient melancholy music’. This admixture of suave nonchalance and chivalric pomp contend well under Halász’s musicianship. Being in a heightened state of emotion where expression is purely authentic and unaffected by superfluities, he composes with soul or ‘duende’. According to Lorca: ‘Duende is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought.’ Lorca adds that he heard an old maestro of the guitar say that duende ‘is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.’ Not a question of ability but of ‘true, living, style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation’, duende, according to Lorca, is the heart of the music. On this recording it is clear that Halasz gives of his body and soul.
Like a musical rendition of Lorca’s poem entitled The Song of the Barren Orange Tree, Meditación (track 2) is shatteringly beautiful and Halász imbues it with untrammelled, unrestrained sensitivity. Solea (track 9) from the Spanish word ‘soledad’ meaning ‘solitude’ unravels at the seams to expose a scarlet filigree. With expressive strumming and tender picking, Halász’s dramatic dynamic exchange from ferociously vigorous to quietly graceful is utterly captivating. Dancing rhythms devolve and dissolve into movements of colours as shadowy soledad is cloaked in longing. In Sacrificio (track 12) Halász uses tremolo to deliver an uninterrupted flow of melody.
With clarity and precision, the much acclaimed and award-winning - he won first prize in the Andrés Segovia Competition in Spain in 1993 - Halász combines weightless grace with quicksilver alacrity. His full-bodied and age-oaked yet fresh sound emerges from a recording of optimum quality.