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Andrès Segovia and his Contemporaries - Volume 13 After Tárrega: The Guitar in Spain - Part 1 rec. 1927-30 DOREMI DHR-8079 [75:43]
Given the magnificence of their legacy, preoccupation with how the great composers sounded as performers is to be anticipated. To a large degree we must rely on the opinions of their contemporaries. Even the advent of the piano roll and gramophone at the turn of the 19th century often only provides a novelty experience, and belies the true quality of the composers as performers.
Agustin Barrios was one of the first guitarists to make recordings in the beginning of the 20th century. Primitive recordings of Miguel Llobet from the same era are also available, but in each instance the audio qualities, including pitch variations, belies the excellence with which the artists played their instrument.
The present CD is Volume 13 of a series which offers early recordings of Andrès Segovia and his contemporaries. Segovia’s name, and often large photograph on the cover, is used as a marketing initiative because the names of most of these obscure players would never be recognised. The large photograph of Francisco Tarrega on the cover of volume 12 is potentially misleading because there is no authenticated recording by him. Irrespective, the content of a wax cylinder, circa 1898, claimed to be by Tarrega, but highly unlikely to be so, was included in Vol. 12. The sound quality of this wax cylinder is very poor and, along with most of the tracks on the present CD, really only represent historical novelty. The intense interest in the former again confirms the preoccupation with how the masters actually sounded as performers.
The recordings on this CD were made post-1925 when the process of electrical recording was introduced, incorporating a microphone, vacuum tube amplifier and electromagnetic disc cutting head. Although a significant improvement over its predecessors, the sound is still comprised relative to later developments. These originals are often enhanced for re-release using modern transfer techniques.
Having listened to all the tracks, the one thing immediately conspicuous is the superiority of Segovia over his recorded contemporaries. Compare the tremolo of Juan Nogues Pon (1), with that of Segovia’s superior playing in the masterpiece, Recollections of the Alhambra by Tarrega (23); they are chalk and cheese. That said, in general, the playing of Juan Parras del Moral is excellent. Each track (7-13) is executed with both musical and technical mastery. The Sor Minuetto (13) has been recorded elsewhere by Segovia, but the Moral version here is superior. Segovia described him as ‘a friend more than a student’, and they started their careers in parallel. Moral later became Professor of Guitar at the Barcelona School of Music. Of all the Spanish classical guitarists who commenced their career in the late 1920s, only Segovia and Miguel Llobet recorded outside Spain. This may explain, in part, why Moral did not become an internationally recognized exponent of his instrument.
It is interesting to compare the sound quality of this CD with the recordings made by Segovia in the same era and re-released on vinyl, circa 1980: The Art of Segovia, The HMV recordings 1927-39 (HMV RLS-745); these original recordings were all made in London. The original 78rpm recordings were transferred using electronic enhancement to modern vinyl by the remastering genius Keith Hardwick. The contrast in sound quality between what we hear on this review CD and the remastered vinyl is remarkable; it is gratifying to hear what Segovia actually sounded like in his early career. What did not change is the enormous pressure faced by the recording artists of that era who had to record ’direct to disc’: there were no tape recorders, and in the event of a significant error the artist had to start the recording all over again.
For those interested in the novelty of hearing obscure guitarists from when the guitar was in its recording infancy, this CD is a worthwhile investment. As a bonus you will also receive early recordings by the legendary Andrès Segovia which, although sometimes sonically compromised, are a testament to his absolute mastery of the instrument.