By: Brad Conroy
Viaje en Espana, the latest recording by classical guitarist Martha Masters, is more than just another Spanish guitar album. Even after one listen, it is apparent that the sounds of Spain, and the repertoire made famous by Segovia, are in direct relation to the music on this recording. Even though most of the music in this collection was never performed by Segovia, it was all written and dedicated to him, allowing fans to experience the “other” Segovia repertoire for the first time.
Masters performs this rare set of pieces with precision, incredible tone, expressive dynamics, and a deep understanding of the Spanish guitar heritage. She has given herself fully to what might be considered a great moment in modern classical guitar history. The CD is captivating not only because her excellent performance, but also because of her ability to bring the composers music to life through careful editing, and for the incredibly detailed liner notes which provide a history behind the selected pieces.
Over the decades, Segovia has inspired many composers to write for the guitar, which gave birth to twentieth century works by Ponce, Torroba, Turina, Tedesco, and Tansman, just to name a few of the composers he championed. Very little has been known about the music that was written for Segovia that he never paid much attention to; not because it isn’t great music, but because of his very busy concert schedule Segovia simply did not have enough time to see to all the music that was sent to him. In many cases there may also have been a lack of interest in these works because he simply did not feel the music suited his tastes and style.
Little has been known about this forgotten music which is part of what has become known as the “Linares discovery,” (the manuscripts used for this recording were in the Segovia library at Linares, the Andalucian town where Segovia was born). Even though these pieces are in a slightly different style and character than the music Segovia popularized; many of them posses the Spanish nationalistic quality Segovia sought, and the music is no less impressive or significant than works by Ponce, Torroba, and Turina. The “Linares discovery” was a great moment for the guitar, as it added an incredible edition of undiscovered works to the Spanish classical guitar repertoire.
“Cuadros: Scenes d’Espange,” by the French composer Raoul Laparra (1876-1943), is a suite that contains the opening three tracks on the album. “Pablo Castellano” the first movement of the suite is truly Spanish in nature and is reminiscent of “Zambra Granadina” by Isaac Albeniz. The rhythms of “Pablo Castellano”, “Brujerias”, and “En Aragon,” the three movements of the suite, draw heavily from the Spanish dances (jota, tiento, zortzico).
Laparra, even though French, lived in Spain and was obviously taken with the beauty and romance of the sounds he heard there. The melodies and harmonies are very Spanish in nature, but you can hear a uniqueness and a individual character in his sound. It is sad to think that music of this caliber had to lay dormant for so long. The 20th century guitar repertoire has long been lacking in mulit-movement works, especially in music that is as rich, expressive, original, and Spanish as Laparra’s one and only suite for the guitar.
“Serenata Espanola” by Joaquin Malats is exactly the kind of repertoire one expects to hear on a Spanish album. Masters breaths fresh life into this piece with a new transcription, moving the piece from the original key of A minor, the key from the famous transcription by Tarrega, to E minor and then capoing on the first fret to raise it further to the key of F minor, the original piano key.
This seemingly small change has brought something different to this well-known piece, and made this piece of standard repertoire exciting again. Even with the change in key, the melody still sings, and the harmonic accompaniment has a much fuller sound, which really brings the piece to life.
“Erimina,” by Antonio Jose de San Sebastian, is an incredible piece of music which fully explores the depths of the guitar and its capabilities. This dramatic piece was explained by San Sebastian in his 1927 edition and in short, he describes the piece as an exile dreaming about his homeland. “Erimina” has a slightly modern sound to it, mostly due to its use of an excessive bass pedal which gives it a modal-droning sound. The pedal is broken up with brief moments of a fiery Spanish dance. The author of the liner notes expresses that, “it lies far above the quality of the Spanish music Segovia used to feature in his concerts and recordings.”
Viaje en Espana by Martha Masters is an incredible recording and a valuable resource for those looking for new high-quality music to perform. If you are like most guitarists who love the sounds of the Spanish repertoire, but are sick of hearing the same pieces being recycled, this album will give you what you’ve been hoping for. It truly is a shame that the music discovered in the “Linares discovery” was untouched for so long.
Many of the composers represented here were so discouraged after Segovia neglected their music that they never wrote for the guitar again. With the guitar having such a lacking repertoire compared to other instruments, it is puzzling that Segovia never let any of his students or colleagues look at some of these manuscripts, because this music is just as important as the music he decided to champion in his recitals and recording. Masters has done an excellent job compiling these pieces, and a superb job in their performance, something only a true master of the instrument could accomplish.