Segovia: A Centenary Celebration Part XVI—Segovia’s Later Recordings 1965-1977

BY GRAHAM WADE | FROM THE MAY 1994 ISSUE OF CLASSICAL GUITAR

In 1956 Segovia had begun a new phase of his recording career, with Israel Horowitz as his producer at Decca. Thus Segovia’s work in the studios between 1956 and 1977 produced over 20 recordings, some previously mentioned in this series. Allan Kozinn summed up Segovia’s total recording career, as follows:

Segovia’s recording career falls basically into four main periods of coda; but since Segovia’s style remained basically consistent the divisions have more to do with record technology and label affiliations than with musical considerations. The first period comprises the 78rpm recordings Segovia made in the dozen years preceding World War II, for the British HMV label. The second takes up in 1944, with the 78s Segovia made for Columbia (Britain), Decca (US) and Musicraft (US). The period spills over into the third, the start of the LP era, in which some (but not all) of his Decca 78s were re-released in the new LP format, and in which Segovia began making new recordings specifically for the more expansive LP. The fourth period begins in 1956, when Israel Horowitz began his association with Segovia as producer for Decca, and ends with the two volumes of narration and etudes, The Guitar and I, in 1972, after which Decca was sold to MCA and stopped its classical recording projects. The coda the four recital discs Segovia made for Spain’s Disco Movieplay and RCA… between 1974 and 1978. (Allan Kozinn, “Andrés Segovia on Disc,” Guitar Review No. 52, 1983).

Note: This is part 16 of a 17-part series from the Classical Guitar archive.

Because of the complexity of these four phases of Segovia’s recording career, which continues indefinitely with a mass of re-issues, the art of Segovia discography is labyrinthine. It is not proposed here to give a definitive list of Segovia’s later recordings but instead to offer a few indications of the unfolding of events during these last years. Each period of Segovia’s career in the studios has many riches and quite a few surprises, and the last era is perhaps the most complex in terms of material recorded and multiplicity of issues and re-issues. It is also fascinating because of the reception by contemporary reviewers at a time when many magnificent recordings by players such as Bream and Williams were setting the pace and forging the future of the guitar.

Towards the end of 1965, with the Maestro approaching his 73rd birthday, the first recording of Tansman’s Suite in Modo Polonico and Mompou’s Suite Compostelana was issued, with Two Miniatures by Maria Esteban de Valera included on Brunswick SXA4532. The Gramophone‘s reviewer M. M. (January, 1966) praised Segovia’s “wide range of colour” but also took note of “a generous ration of squeaks.”

The next album was reviewed in The Gramophone in April 1966 (“Maestro Segovia,” Brunswick AXA4535/SXA4535). Here the critic observed that Segovia does “muck the time about rather a lot, notably in the Largo by Haydn, a composer nobody else would dream of treating in this way,” adding wryly, “but somehow it works.”

The programme consisted of:

  • Pavanes Nos. 5 & 6 (Milan)
  • Passacaille (de Visée)
  • Giga Melancolica (marked Anon but actually by Froberger)
  • Minuet and Largo assai (Haydn, identified by the reviewer as the slow movement of the String Quartet in G minor, Op. 74, No. 3)
  • Zambra Granadina (Albébiz)
  • Gallardas and Españoleta (Sanz)
  • Sonata L. 79 (Scarlatti)
  • Andante largo and Rondo (Sor)
  • Song Without Words Op. 30, No. 3 (Mendelssohn)
  • Romance de los Pinos (Torroba)

Once again a reviewer commented on the “finger-tips squeaking up and down the fingerboard” and remarked also that “One or two bits are rewritten with a freedom that would make us fling up our hands in pious horror with any other performer.” The critic takes as the highlight of the album the Largo by Haydn, “a marvellous piece which Segovia plays exquisitely,” and the “evocative music” of Albébiz.

The next in the Brunswick series (AXA4550/SXA4550) was reviewed in The Gramophone in November 1967. The pieces recorded here were:

  • Five Pieces (Purcell)
  • Sonata in A, L. 483 (Scarlatti)
  • Five Pieces (Handel)
  • Sarabande, Bourrée, Double (J. S. Bach, from Partita No. 1 in B minor)
  • English Suite, Op. 31 (Duarte)
  • Preambulo and Sardana (Cassada)

M. M. once again criticises the “rhythmic licence” which “now seems occasionally at variance with the music,” yet “there is, certainly, never anything lacking in either poetry, or colour or skill.” The comments on Duarte’s English Suite are commendatory:

The John Duarte English Suite proves an interesting addition to the repertory. Based almost entirely on English folk-tunes, assembled and arranged with skill (the first movement though, does not hang together quite so well as the others), the suite suggests a new field which the classical guitar might readily explore in search of an expansion of its repertory. In fact Duarte, on this occasion, really builds somewhat more strongly and effectively on an English foundation than Cassada does on a Spanish. (The Gramophone, November 1967)

In the same month Discus in BMG reviewed this recording:


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…The English, apart from Purcell, have their triumphs, however. The transcription of the Scarlatti “Sonata” is by John Williams and a considerable blow is struck for Perfidious Albion by fellow contributor, John Duarte. His “English Suite,” on which half the tunes are folk-English, the other half composed, receives splendidly fitting treatment from Segovia—who plays it as any Englishman would be proud to do. Not only is this the first work by an English composer of this century to be recorded by the Maestro, it is remarkable in being an affectionate interpretation by the greatest living Spanish musician of the folk­music of a country which is oddly Spanophilic!

What a nice, gentle reminder that our own music is worthy of attention too.

In 1968, the Segovia star was still in the ascendant with the issue of his first recording of Manuel Ponce’s Sonata Mexicana and Sonata Clásica (Homage to Sor) (MCA MUC100/ MUCSl00). The album, reviewed in The Gramophone in June 1968, also included Romanza (Paganini), Sevillana (Turina), and Three Minuets (Sor).

Some months later, in February 1969, Lionel Salter, writing in The Gramophone about MCA MUCS125, with Guitar Concerto in E major by Boccherini (arr. Cassado) and J. S. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 (BWV 1009) (arr. Duarte), continued the attack on the finger noises audible on Segovia recordings and on the Maestro’s style of performance:

…What does (worry us), apart from the perpetual and obtrusive squeaking of the player’s hand as it moves up and down the neck of the guitar, is Segovia’s mannered style (all those hesitations in the Gigue, the constant holding-up of the melodic line in the Prelude in order to insert bass notes, and those sentimental ritardandos both times in the first half of the Allemande and the second half of the Courante!) and his rhythmic instability.

Lionel Salter is also displeased by the Boccherini arrangement where, “in the first movement Segovia’s playing is laboured, with a conspicuously slack rhythmic impetus and with lumpy phrasing.”

This was to be The Gramophone‘s last word on Segovia for some years. Only in June 1974, with the re-issue of an all-Bach recording, was the silence broken in a tiny comment, preferring the John Williams version of the Chaconne, but liking Segovia’s “hint of plumminess that suits the style of playing well.”

andres segovia classical guitarist album "The Guitar and I"

In the interim, however, Segovia’s recording career still forged ahead, with some new and intriguing ideas being introduced. In 1971 and 1972, albums entitled The Guitar and I were issued in two volumes (MCA S-30.020 and MCA DL 7-10182). These featured spoken auto­biography by Segovia and technical exercises and studies. As Segovia’s autobiography was not to be published in print until 1976, these two recordings were of special interest, even if they went over the familiar biographical territory set out in Guitar Review in the late 1940’s.

Segovia’s last album (Reveries, RCA RL 12602) was recorded on 20-24 June, 1977, at the age of 85 and issued in 1978. The sleeve cover depicted a somewhat disembodied Maestro with sketched head, hands and guitar only, clouds and a setting sun filling in ethereally where the upper body would normally be. The music consisted of:

  • Ballet (Dance of the Blessed Spirits) (Gluck)
  • Eight Movements from Album for the Young, Op. 68, Triiumerei, and Romanza (Schumann)
  • Mystic Suite (Asencio)
  • Ronsard (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
  • Castellana (Burgalesa) (Moreno-Torroba)

In the review in The Gramophone (June, 1978), John Duarte describes this as “not a record for lovers of exhibitionism but one that distills much of the loving artistry of 69 years of concert-giving and displays faithfully the legendary ‘Segovia sound’ in all its aspects.” The recording was mentioned again in The Gramophone (September, 1978) as “a delightful distillation of his art.”

In 1978 the cycle of Segovia’s recordings available to the public began to be completed by the re-issue (in the HMV Treasury Series, EMI HLM 7134) of his 1949 recording of Guitar Concerto No. 1 by Castelnuovo-Tedesco and various solos—Tarantella in A minor (Castelnuovo-Tedesco), Sonatina Meridional (Ponce), Norteña (Crespo), Fandanguillo (Turina), Arada, Fandanguillo (Torroba), and Two Studies (Villa-Lobos). A review by John Duarte in The Gramophone in July 1978, commented on the “wonderfully pliant phrasing, the eloquent dynamic control, the intense feeling and, perhaps above all… the production of beautiful sounds and their use in colouring the music.” These recordings showed “Segovia, at what many consider to have been the height of his powers, the period during which the parabola of technical fluency and the rising curve of mature artistry met optimally.”

A further recording of perhaps even greater historical significance appeared in 1980 with the re-issue on two LPs of Segovia’s early recordings in The Art of Segovia, The HMV Recordings 1927-39 (The HMV Treasury, EMI RLS 745). This covered a wide range of music including the remarkable recording of Ponce’s Folies d’Espagne Variations, as well as classic interpretations of compositions by Albébiz, Granados, Torroba, Turina, Ponce, etc, and the precious early Bach recordings.

The Art of Segovia was reviewed in The Gramophone in March 1980 by Lionel Salter, who acknowledged that this was “an essential set for every guitarist’s record collection.” In this he was slightly less effusive than John Duarte’s sleeve notes which praised the album as “…for those who love the guitar, the most important recording to be released in their lifetime.”