Segovia: The Ramirez Years
If the Republic of the Guitar is a quirky, independent small country in the world of music, then its first great leader – who took it from undeveloped isolation to international legitimacy – was Andrés Segovia. He could be authoritarian, reactionary and dismissive, but with his outstanding musicianship and force of personality, he founded the modern guitar through transcriptions and, pioneeringly, commissions from non-guitarist composers.
John Mills’s tribute features one disc each of those transcriptions (pick-and-mix miniatures from Bach to Tchaikovsky) and commissions (elegant, appealing Spanish-romantic melody-and-harmony) which show Segovia’s conservatism. There are no Stravinsky- or Schoenberg-style revelations in the craftsmanship of Tansman, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Duarte, Ponce et al; yet Mills’s expert hands prevent any chance of ennui.
The guitar is a Ramirez, a make inseparably associated with Segovia. Mills knows as well as anyone how to exploit its big fruity tone and wide sound palette. There are gorgeous, orchestra-like resonances (the lapping dissonances of Rodrigo’s Zarabanda lejana, for instance) and velvety pizzicatos (Torroba’s Suite Castellana).
No flashiness, no empty ‘virtuosity’; instead, this is playing with grace, beauty and poise that will surely captivate even those who (like me) sometimes find Segovia’s own rubatos just too lofty. Every note, every harmony, is vivid, clear and well weighted: the Purcell (eg the New Irish Tune, also known as Lilibulero) isn’t ‘authentic’ as a period performance, but it’s authentically ‘Segovia’.
This is instantly attractive music-making of good taste. A hugely enjoyable recording.