Guitarist Pepe Romero displays masterful artistry in Coral Gables

By Lawrence Budmen

Pepe Romero performed Thursday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church.

Pepe Romero performed Thursday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church.

A full house enthusiastically greeted Spanish guitar legend Pepe Romero Thursday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church, presented as part of the Community Arts Program’s summer concert series. As both solo artist and member of the Romero Guitar Quartet, this venerable artist has been playing professionally for over half a century and shows no sign of slowing down. Throughout a varied and generous program, Romero was in prime form and did not disappoint his vociferous fans.

Opening with Fantasia XVI by 16th-century composer Luys Milan, Romero immediately demonstrated his pristine clarity of articulation. Based on four repeated chords, the fantasy requires the player to  manipulate the guitar’s sixth low E string in contrasting patterns. Romero’s incisive performance channeled flawless technique and sage musicianship. Playing admirably without amplification, Romero’s terraced dynamic range was wonderfully immediate in the sanctuary acoustic.

The stately rhythms and melodic felicities of Gaspar Sanz’s Danzas espanolas were the inspiration for Joaquin Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un Gentilhombre, long a showpiece concerto for Romero with symphony orchestras. Romero infused the original solo Sanz pieces with an appealing mix of stylish classicism and assertive rhythmic velocity, never sacrificing tonal beauty, even in the fleet dances.

The grave introduction to Fernando Sor’s Variations on a Theme from The Magic Flute belies the spirit and charm of Mozart’s melody that soars through this lively vignette. Romero executed Sor’s whimsical episodes with verve and élan while bringing weight and crystalline introspection to the slow sections.

Francisco Tarrega’s haunting Capricho Arabe brought a change of mood. In this exotically flavored gem, Romero’s soft playing made the guitar sing with gentle yearning. Tarrega’s Gran jota was a vigorous Spanish turn on the dance floor. Whether executing slides on the finger board, strumming or hitting the instrument’s wood while plucking the strings, Romero whizzed through the score’s bag of tricks with spirit.

Joaquin Turina’s Sevillana Fantasia spices flamenco-inspired figurations with 20th-century harmonics. Romero’s idiomatic mastery drew out every nuance of this Spanish gem in the manner of Manuel de Falla. He delicately evoked the Andalusian languor of Albeniz’s Leyenda, the tremolos and rapid interjections clean and transparent.

Suite Andaluza by Celedonio Romero, Pepe’s late father, abounds in toe-tapping rhythms and brief, repetitive melodic cells that presage minimalism. Romero had a field day with the work’s Latin colors and technical hoops, even playing a melody entirely on the fingerboard. Romero’s own Homenaje a Sabicas, a tribute to a great and underrated Spanish guitarist, echoed the classical era while recasting simple thematic material into strophes of virtuosity, the perfect showpiece finale.

The cheering audience was not about to let Romero go without an encore and he obliged with one of his signature pieces—Asturias from Memories of the Alhambra by Albeniz. Spun in quiet, gentle tones, this beautiful evocation proved a lovely conclusion to an evening with the Heifetz of the guitar.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Guitarist Pepe Romero displays masterful artistry in Coral Gables”

  1. Posted Mar 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm by sam desmet

    Asturias (also called leyenda or prelude) has been added to the suite espanola by the publisher after the death of Albeniz, and is not part of memories of the alhambra (recuerdos de la alhambra). This last piece is a tremolo piece by catalonian composer Francisco Tarrega. Both pieces are ‘evergreens’ for the guitar (eventhough asturias is originally written for piano), they are both from a different composer.

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