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Segovia’s American Debut
New York Times
Jan 9, 1928
by Olin Downes

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Segov3.jpg (16540 bytes) The fame of Andrés Segovia, the Spanish guitarists whose name has been a prominent one of late years in capitals of Europe, had preceded him. An audience including many Spaniards and many more of the musical connoisseurs of the city greeted him when he made his first appearance yesterday afternoon in Town Hall.

But the appearance of Mr. Segovia is not that of the trumpeted virtuoso. He is rather the dreamer or scholar in bearing, long hair, eyeglasses, a black frock coat and neckwear of an earlier generation. He seats himself, thoughtfully, places his left foot on its rest, strikes a soft chord, then bends over his guitar and proceeds to play like the poet and master he is of the instrument.

Granting a knowledge far greater than this reviewer possesses of the technics of the matter, it would not avail to describe Mr. Segovia’s performance in technical terms. He belongs to the very small group of musicians who by transcendent power of execution, by imagination and intuition create an art of their own that sometimes seems to transform the very nature of their medium. Segovia could be if he chose the trick player of his generation. He draws the tone colors of half a dozen instruments from the one that he plays. He has an extraordinary command of nuances, he seems to discover whole planes of sonority. Although his instrument cannot furnish a genuinely connected series of tones he produces upon it, very frequently, the illusion of sustained song. When he play a melody of Back or Haydn he phrases it, slurring certain notes, detaching the others, according to the directions of the composer. He has, of course, the vibrato and the portamento to help him in expression. He is remarkable, almost unique, for not abusing these effects. His left hand is as amazing to watch as to hear, as it flies with an incredibly light, swift, geometrical precision over the keyboard [sic], or divides passages digitally in such a way that one or two fingers stop the strings while the others play various types of melody or figuration.

We have said that all this command of tone, technique and special effects possible to the instrument are only the vehicles of musical intention on the part of the performer. Mr. Segovia played many pieces from Bach, principally movements from suites, and a Haydn minuet for the classic part of his program. He played Bach like a consummate musician. Th relation between the guitar and the old lute, for which Bach wrote some of his music—probably some of the music Mr. Segovia played yesterday—and the manner in which the instrument of plucked strings became the instrument of struck wires in the final form of the piano, was brought home with especial force of illustration. Nevertheless, the most remarkable of Mr. Segovia’s performances were not those of Back, interpreted with so much taste and musicianship, but the pieces, principally by Spanish masters, composed for the guitar.

The first two of these pieces were the compositions of Sor, who is given little attention by the dictionaries, but who, as stated by the program, lived from 1778 to 1839 an wrote music excellent in style and dignified in invention. There was a haunting simplicity and sentiment in the performance, which was of a jeweled finish and gracefulness of figuration. And the eighteenth century flavor was emphasized by the idiom of the instrument.

More native in character, and of the Spanish genre, were the "Serenata" of Malats, the "Danza" and "Etude" of Tarrega. Each of these compositions made different demands; each revealed another side of the performer’s equipment. It was here that he proved beyond contraction the right of his instrument and of himself as a performer and creator upon it, to the attention and the respect of all music lovers. For with certain instruments, as with much music, the appearance of the master, with his handicraft and his vision, is required, before that which is inherent can be brought to life and become articulate for the multitude.

Saying all this, it must be added that Mr. Segovia did not and cannot succeed in removing the limitations which will always surround his instrument. he has stretched these limitations to the utmost. He has far outdistanced in his knowledge and his musical conceptions the ordinary twanger of strings. Nevertheless, the guitar remains the guitar, with limits of sonority, color, dynamics. These limitations make Bach less impressive through its medium than on the piano or harpsichord. They reach their utmost effect and their entire significance in music less sculpturesque and contrapuntal than Bach's and with warmer harmony and more elementary rhythms. Hence Mr. Segovia's audience was most enthusiastic when he played his own Spanish music in a way that revealed its essence of spirit and idiom.

This was an unusually significant appearance, and the first of concerts that Mr. Segovia will give here. His reception should have gratified him. A New York audience has seldom been quicker or warmer with its approval.

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