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Andrés Segovia - In Portrait

Segovia at Los Olivos
Andrés Segovia: the Song of the Guitar

Music by Albeniz, Bach, Scarlatti, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Granados, Sor, Rameau, Tarrega, Torroba etc.

Opus Arte: DVD OACN0931D [196 mins]

This DVD will be essential for all classical guitarists and give great pleasure to everyone else who loves the instrument, now one of the most popular of all in each of its guises. It was singlehandedly emancipated from its folkloric and flamenco associations by Andrés Segovia in a single-minded quest which he had maintained unswervingly through a long life in music, concert-giving and teaching worldwide, which had him mostly far away from his native Andalucia.

These are two famous films by Christopher Nupen, the first made in Segovia's new home Los Olivos in Andalucia (1967); the location for the other Granada and the Alhambra (1976) when the great man was 84 (he continued giving recitals until a few weeks before his death at 94).

The two films should not be watched in rapid succession, because there is inevitably some overlap in what Segovia tells us. His verbal delivery of his life story is slow and measured, so the films are not for repeated playing, other than by committed guitar addicts and afficionados. Nevertheless, Segovia's achievement is among the marvels of Western music, comparable to the rehabilitation of the cello by Casals (especially of Bach's suites) and the pioneering work of others to develop their particular instruments, and Nupen's excellent films will endure as historic documents.

Nupen in his introduction, which should be seen, places the films in context and celebrates the importance of modern silent filming (which rescued his first disastrous experience with Segovia) and the flexibility of DVD. The musical items in the second film can be programmed as if it were a private concert without talk, filmed in the Alhambra at the dead of night, long after all the tourists had dispersed. Many of the pieces are arrangments by Segovia himself, necessary at the time because, he explains and avers, to write for the guitar you have to play it and play it well! So his repertoire may be thought by some reactionary and anachronistic in the 21st century, and he admits freely on film that he remained backward-looking in his musical tastes and unsympathetic to what he thought avant-garde misuse of instruments.

A great deal of piano music in the 'canon' was written by composer pianists, but development of the instrument's resources has been continued often and rewardingly by non-expert composers (e.g. Tippett was no virtuoso pianist) and innovation can be restricted by habitual playing patterns. Collaboration with special performers is the modern way, and Berio did not need to be a performing guitarist to create his Sequenzas for that instrument and many of the others.*

*Click on http://www.compositiontoday.com/articles/berio_sequenzas.asp to sample Berio's innovative pieces, themselves becoming classics in the recital repertoires of guitarists, accordionists, bassoonists alongside solo studies for more regular recital instruments


© Peter Grahame Woolf