BY GRAHAM WADE | FROM THE JULY 1993 ISSUE OF CLASSICAL GUITAR
In 1951, the release of Columbia LX 1404/5/6 featured the first recording of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Concerto with Segovia and the New London Orchestra under Alec Sherman, recorded on 30 June, 1949. The Gramophone reviewed this, exceedingly briefly, in August 1951. The opening theme was considered “the best part of the work” while the “rest is very slight, easy going and melodious.” The reviewer exhorted the reader to “Try this light wine: it is well bottled and suitable for a summer’s evening.” (As was so frequent in reviews of Segovia, while the playing was highly praised the substance of the repertoire tended to be denigrated.)
Note: This is part 6 of a 17-part series from the Classical Guitar archive.
In September 1952 an editorial in The Gramophone by the editor, Compton Mackenzie, promised that, “Next month we shall be getting the first long-playing records from E.M.I.” Decca had taken the plunge with the new technology two years before in “a memorable event in the history of the gramophone.”
In November 1952, Edward Sackville-West noticed “not only that the LP has at last almost edged out 78, but that nearly all these LP issues are unavailable in any other form.” He went on to spare a thought for “the needs of the many discophiles… whose houses do not possess electricity and who therefore cannot play LP discs at all.” Thus it was around this time that the first major upheaval in the history of recorded music occurred, at least as far as the British Isles were concerned.
In the USA the LP phenomenon was launched several months earlier than the autumn of 1952. In Guitar Review No. 13, 1952, three recordings by Rey de la Torre were advertised by Spanish Music Center of New York. The titles were The Music of Francisco Tárrega (SMC Pro-Arte 516) and The Music of Fernando Sor (SMC 517), priced at three dollars each and “recorded on high fidelity unbreakable Vinylite plastic material.”
Guitar Review No. 14, 1952, carried a whole page advertisement by the same company of “Long Playing (33 rpm) GUITAR RECORDINGS” featuring “the finest music ever recorded by world-famous concert guitarists in high fidelity unbreakable records.” These included another album by Rey de la Torre, (entitled Grand Sonata, Op. 22 by Fernando Sor) with further pieces from the Sor repertoire, on AL 76 (including Op. 9, the Mozart Variations) priced at $5.72.
Leading guitarists whose LPs were also advertised were Felix Arguelles (two LP’s in the Spanish Composers Series, Vols. 1 and 2, SMC 506/507), Carlos Montoya (Flamenco Inventions, SMC 512), Vicente Gomez (Vicente Gomez Plays a Guitar Recital, DL 8017), and Julio Martinez Oyailguren (Latin-American Folk Music, DL 8018).
“There was no evidence whatsoever of any second takes being recorded by Segovia… In this instance no re-takes were apparently considered necessary at any time, a remarkable achievement.”
On the same page were five recordings with the same title, An Andres Segovia Recital. In a lecture at the University of Southern California in 1986, Professor Ronald Purcell spoke of his researches in the recording archives of the Decca company. Tracks recorded there were logged on file cards at the time according to the number of takes on each track. During the sessions in 1949 Segovia had recorded over 50 tracks, and the file cards were still available to check the titles laid down at the time. These tracks constituted the recordings in a series of albums issued in Britain under slightly varying titles.
Ronald Purcell reported that there was no evidence whatsoever of any second takes being recorded by Segovia. His method of recording was never to drop in notes and pick up the mistakes but to record the piece from beginning to end. In this instance no re-takes were apparently considered necessary at any time, a remarkable achievement.
A further twist in technological development during these years was the introduction of HMV’s new 45 rpm disc, following several years of research by RCA Victor in America. The reason for this speed of disc was that for technical reasons, “a higher speed disc can be made to give reasonable quality on a smaller diameter than is possible at 33,” (as G. Howard-Sorrell pointed out in The Gramophone, November 1952, in his article “Technical Report”). In fact, “if the 45 discs had been released a few months earlier, the majority of record producers might well have followed RCA’s lead instead of American Columbia’s and concentrated on the higher speed for all LP discs.”
At least two Segovia recordings were indeed issued on 45 records and today are collector’s items. These were Decca ED 3503, Vol. 1, with Sonata (D. Scarlatti), Romanza (Paganini), Spanish Dance No. 5 (Granados), and Sevilla (Albéniz); and Decca ED 3510 Vol. 2 with Gavotte, Sarabande (allegedly Alessandro Scarlatti, but actually two pastiches by Manuel Ponce), Spanish Dance No. 10 (Granados), and Granada (Albéniz).
The first announcement of the new LPs of Segovia’s playing in The Gramophone came in December 1952. This was the issue of a compilation from the 1949 recording sessions of Guitar Concerto by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Ponce’s Sonata Meridional, and Turina’s Arada and Fandanguillo, and appeared on Columbia 33CX1020.
This was followed a few months later in March 1953 by An Andres Segovia Recital on Brunswick AXTL 1005/Decca DL 9633. This recording offered:
Prelude, Ballet and Gigue (“Weiss”/Ponce )
Prelude (from Cello Suite No. 1) and Gavotte (Cello Suite No. 6) (Bach)
Allegro (from Sonata Op. 25) (Sor)
Song without Words, Op. 119, No. 6 (Mendelssohn)
The significance of this programme was enormous. For the first time Segovia could offer a total recital on a recording which followed the profile of a normal concert, starting with the 16th century and progressing through the ages, ending with Albéniz. This was the first recording also of Torroba’s Sonatina (to be recorded about 30 times between 1952 and 1993) and of Segovia’s transcription, completed many years before according to his autobiography, of Albéniz’s Leyenda. The Gramophone observed how Segovia had moved from EMI to Brunswick (a branch of the Decca Recording Company), in company with Heifetz. Segovia, “at first an HMV performer, but latterly establish on Columbia,” was now represented on Brunswick by “one of the four recitals he has recorded for American Decca.”
Ronald Purcell, in his monograph, Andres Segovia, Contributions to the World of the Guitar, lists four other LPs which appeared in the USA before An Andres Segovia Recital and which did not appear on review in The Gramophone, and so may not have reached the British critics or public in this form. These included Magic Strings, A Treasury of Immortal Performances, RCA LCT 1002, a 1950 reprint compilation record where, in company with other artists, Segovia is represented by the transcription by Tárrega of Alard’s famous Study in A, first recorded in 1927. This was followed by Decca A 384, (also under DU 707 Unbreakable 1949 and DL 8022) Music of Albéniz and Granados. The works were:
Granada, Torre Bermeja, and Seville (Albéniz)
Tonadilla, Spanish Dances Nos. 10 and 5 (Granados)
There was also Decca A 596, Classical Guitar Solos. This included tracks used on the 45s previously mentioned. The programme consisted of:
Romanza (Paganini, arr. Ponce)
Three Pieces (Purcell)
Gavotte and Sarabande (‘Scarlatti”/Ponce)
Minuet and Andante (Haydn)
Ronald Purcell also cites Decca DL 8022, Andres Segovia—Guitar Solos. This copious collection offered:
Granada, Torre Bermeja, Sevilla (Albéniz),
Tonadilla, Spanish Dances 5 and 10 (Granados),
Three Pavanas (Milan), Canzone e Saltarello (Anon, arr. Chilesotti),
Burgalesa y Albada, Arada (Torroba),
Danza Moray Minuet (Tárrega),
Entrada y Giga, Bourree y Minueto (de Visée),
El Noi de la Mare, El Testamento de Amelia (arr. Llobet).
This was later reissued in its entirety on MCA 24.018, in 1969.
Segovian discography, even at this early stage, is thus something of a labyrinth, with duplications and strenuous commercial use of the available material. The crossover from the world of the 78 rpm’s and 45 rpm’s to LPs is not a tidy process. Yet the markers can be placed when the LP became the accepted medium and there was no going back. In Britain, lagging about a year behind the USA in LP technology and marketing, this seems to have been in 1953, the watershed between the new and the old.
To drive the point home that the LP was here to stay, a second recording was mentioned in the pages of The Gramophone in September 1953. This was entitled An Andres Segovia Concert on Brunswick AXTL 1O1O/Decca DL 9638. This recording presented:
Suite in D minor (de Visée)
Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9 (Sor)
Allegretto grazioso and Gavotte (Handel)
Bourree and Courante (Bach)
Sonata (1st movement) (Giuliani)
Homenaje, Pour le Tombeau de Debussy (Falla)
Etude No. 7 (Villa-Lobos)
This recording thus carried Segovia’s second recording of Sor’s Op. 9, this time with repeats. (The first recording of Op. 9 had been reviewed in The Gramophone in August 1927, and was the first classical guitar recording ever reviewed in those august pages, even if the critic had damned Sor’s “pleasant childish prattling” and commented that “The playing, is of course, the main thing.”) The recording of Falla’s only guitar piece, and the first recording of Villa-Lobos” Etude No. 7 are of course significant landmarks in the guitar’s rapid progress over these years.
The Gramophone makes mention of the third recital recording in the series in November 1954. An Andres Segovia Programme, Brunswick AXTL 1060/Decca DL 9647, continued the inexorable build-up of the Segovian repertoire at last available on LP. The programme included:
Sarabande and Minuet (Handel)
Sicilienne and Bourree (Bach)
Prelude in A (Chopin)
Andantino Variato (Paganini/Ponce)
Waltz in Bb (Brahms)
Prelude No. 1 (Villa-Lobos)
The next to reach Britain, An Evening with Segovia, on Brunswick AXTL 1070/Decca DL 9733 [editor’s note: this has been corrected here; it originally appeared incorrectly as Decca DL 9633], was reviewed in The Gramophone in May 1955. The pieces were:
Air (with Variations) and Corrente (Frescobaldi)
Capriccio Diabolico (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
Six Preludes (Ponce)
The reviewer was slightly carping about an album which historically has proved a most influential recording:
…But I can’t help feeling that the musical interest of this music is less than that of some other Segovias: the twelve-inch omnibus is carrying too many passengers.
This approach is characteristic of several reviews of guitar LPs in the early days when they first became available. It is as if reviewers were so accustomed to listening to their 78 rpm’s all the way through that they had not yet acquired the habit of selecting the tracks they most wanted to hear. Certainly, in terms of the guitar repertoire in 1955, the only obvious “passenger” on this recording was that of the Minuet by Rameau. Segovia’s transcription of La Frescobalda Variations was to be a most durable runner over the next 40 years and a wonderful addition to the recital repertoire, while the rest turned out to be front-line compositions written by Segovia’s distinguished friends and destined for many excursions in the concert hall.
The fifth recording in the series, An Andres Segovia Recital, was Brunswick AXTL 1069/Decca DL 9751, variously titled, according to date of issue, as Andres Segovia, Guitar, or Segovia Guitar Recital, among others. The Guitar Review advertisement claimed this as a 10″ (the others being 12″), but by the time The Gramophone caught up with the recording in July 1955, the release had become a standard 12″. The programme consisted of:
Prelude in D minor, Gavotte from 4th Lute Suite, Chaconne, Laure from Cello Suite No. 3 (J.S. Bach)
Minuet in C, Andantino, Minuet in D (Sor)
Prelude No. 3 (Villa-Lobos)
Sarabanda Iontana (Rodrigo)
This issue remains one of the most evergreen of all Segovia’s recordings. (This magnificent early Chaconne recording by the way should not be confused with another recording of the piece issued on a cheap label, which is a poorer quality version concerning which there is a certain inexplicable mystery. The existence of this inferior recording has been sufficient to give Segovia’s rendering of the Chaconne a bad name for some who mistakenly believe there is only one version extant, when there are actually two.)
Segovia’s LP debut with these linked issues concluded a chapter of his recording history for a while. The tracks set down here provide a magnificent example of Segovia at his performing best at a time when recording technology could do far more justice to his art than the early 78 rpm’s. These albums can be regarded as middle period Segovia, when the Maestro, in his late 50s, seized hold of the opportunities implicit with the new recording technology and carved his name for ever in the annals of the guitar on disc.
It is a great shame that many younger guitarists do not possess these albums. The Segovia recordings in this series of a special historical significance are Segovia’s recordings of Sonatina, Madroiios, Nocturno, (Torroba), Leyenda (Albéniz), Etude No. 7, Preludes Nos. 1 and 3 (Villa-Lobos), Homenaje, Pour le Tombeau de Debussy (Falla), Cavatina (Tansman), Capriccio Diabolico (Castelnuovo-Tedesco) and, of course, Bach’s Chaconne.
When the history of performance practice on the classical guitar in the mid 20th century comes to be written, these are the tracks that will reveal so much. They are also the recordings fervently listened to by the up and coming players of the 1950s (in particular Julian Bream and John Williams), who before many years had elapsed would be themselves recording many of these pieces and featuring them in recitals. The differences between their interpretation and Segovia’s pinpoint the instrument’s crucial developments over the generation gap. (The similarities in their performances are even more interesting!)
The gulf between modern tastes in interpretation and Segovia’s playing of Renaissance, Baroque, and early 19th century music at this stage in his career, is considerable. Between us and the sensibilities of the 1950s looms the great Early Movement revolution, a mass of musicological researches, the introduction of authentic plucked instruments of all kinds and all periods, and a new language of interpretation. The same will apply to some of the transcriptions, which in some instances have fallen out of favour with recitalists and public alike.
On record Segovia’s performance of transcriptions from the Early Music eras may seem more mannered and eccentric to our ears than it ever did to an audience in the concert hall. But Segovia, over 40 years ago, persuaded the world to listen to Early Music. His part in popularising the music of Milan, Mudarra, Narvaez, de Visée, Sanz, Bach on the guitar, Sor, Giuliani, and Tárrega, is a fact so easily lost sight of today. The inspiration Segovia engendered through these recordings and recitals in the 1950s was extraordinary, and he lit the torch for a new generation who learned, through his work, to love the ancient world of the guitar as much as they adored the 20th century works of the Spanish and South American traditions.
If you would like to own some of these recordings, but don’t have the urge to spend a lifetime hunting down rare vinyl, this 6-CD collection “Andres Segovia The American Decca Recordings Vol.1 Other Concerto” might be just what you’re looking for. Please note this is an affiliate link, which means Classical Guitar will earn a small commission (at no cost to you) when you click through and make a purchase. Thanks for your support!