Well, there is no doubt that the 2014-2015 concert season has truly begun. The Carmel Music Society launched its new season yesterday afternoon with an exciting concert by the Romero Guitar Quartet, consisting of Celin, Pepe, Lito and Celino Romero, in a program of Spanish, Italian, and Brazilian masterpieces.
The shadow of Andrés Segovia looms large over the development of classical guitar playing, for he virtually was the first artist to legitimize the guitar as a serious classical instrument, and he additionally influenced some of the leading luthiers of his day to make ever better instruments and adopt nylon strings as a substitute for gut. The most explosive growth of the guitar’s popularity occurred after World War II, not only with the continuing success of Segovia, but also from a rising public enthusiasm for flamenco music in the 1950s and 1960s from emerging flamenco guitarists such as Sabicas appearing with dancer Carmen Amaya and Manitas da Plata, whose career was launched in the United States by a fabulously successful recording for Connoisseur Society released through Book of the Month Club.
However, with the Romeros began a new appreciation of the guitar quartet as a new genre. The New York Times said about the Romero Guitar Quartet: “Collectively, they are the only classical guitar quartet of real stature in the world today; in fact, they virtually invented the format.” Most remarkable of all is that the Romero family is a multigenerational family representing three generations of guitar virtuosos that together have graced the concert halls of almost every country on earth.
We heard the quartet in dazzling performances of the Preludio from Chapi’s La Revoltosa, the Introduction and Fandango from Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet No. 4, Selections from Torroba’s Estampas, and finally in the concluding work on the program, a real showstopper, the flamboyant flamenco virtuosity of an original work by Pepe Romero, de Cádiz a la Habana.
Along the way we heard some standard classical guitar fare in arrangements of piano works by Albéniz (Leyenda and Sevilla in lovely performances by Pepe Romero) and Granados (two of the Spanish Dances performed by Celino and Lito Romero). Another outstanding piano work by Albéniz in a masterful arrangement by Pepe Romero was the lovely nostalgic Granada, from Suite española, as expressively played by Celin and Pepe Romero.
Two performances in this concert stood out above all the others, Celin Romero totally mesmerized us with his subtle shaping of phrases and exquisite cantabile in two beautiful Preludes by Villa Lobos — this performance will haunt me for days to come — and Celino Romero blew us away with remarkable performances of Celedonio Romero’s Dance No. 1 and Fantasia from Suite Andaluza. In these last two works Celino was working some very special magic with harmonics and creating an Alberti bass jumping from one end of the fretboard to the other. It was amazing to watch (and amazing to listen to).
At the end of this concert the audience came to its feet in a prolonged spontaneous burst of enthusiastic applause. What a way to begin a season!