“It’s taken awhile to formulate all the thoughts swirling in my head since Pepe Romero graced the Marlow Guitar Series with the final concert of the 2011-2012 season on April 14. Pepe packs so much artistry and excellence into his programs it’s just hard to know where to begin, but a few impressions come distinctly to mind when he plays: he is a great lover of his instrument; he should be given the title “Strummer Extraordinaire”; he is a master of contrasts; and, there is no distinction between his body and the guitar – when they sit down together, they are one harmonious, inseparable unit.
All of these descriptions were evident from the moment he opened with Milan’s 16th century Fantasia the delicacy of which summons sublime innocence in a lyrical style that hardly sounds on the cusp of the Baroque; but, there it is, sweetly strolling along like a docile lamb grazing on a bucolic meadow without threat or fear of man or beast. This piece, from the start, communicated that tremendous affection between this eminent artist and the tool of his trade. He loves every, and I mean every, note like his own child with great adoration. I couldn’t help but think he must have been from the holy family of the guitar – that he must have been raised by gentle hands and very tender hearts. He even honored this by playing one of his father’s compositions near the end of the program. But, before that, in Gaspar Sanz’s, Danzas Espanolas, he demonstrated the inner workings of the great Spanish tradition of simple and accessible melodic lines tweaked with subtle ornamentation always charming, never overdone, flawless, and exceptional in every way. When little themes echoed each other, as they often do in classical form, there was always a contrast of darkness and light, piano and forté without an obvious “here I’m playing soft folks, and here I’m playing loud…”. No, Pepe’s approach to contrast is almost imperceptible at times, but never insignificant.
Gran Jota by Tarrega brought such quiet to the house you literally could have heard a pin drop. With it’s long-scaled runs to its rapid strumming passages, it was a tour de force of the Spanish repertoire. At one point in this piece the playing was so soft you could see listeners leaning into the sound breathlessly waiting to exhale all the while being transported by those remarkable hands in which we were all held. Then, the strumming came, OMG, no one strums like this man. When he runs his fingers across the strings of his instrument you hear every note articulated like it were the one and only out of this wave of gushing sound in the middle of which there are all kinds of other things going on from light percussive taps on the soundboard to awesome arpeggios one on top of the other running up and down the frets with an ease that is almost shameful.
Albeniz’s Leyenda is one of those oft played pieces by guitarists which demonstrates one’s great facility, or not, for non-stop finger work. Not everyone is so convincing of their abilities but that’ not an issue for Pepe who just confirmed how superior he is to mere mortal performers. And, for Beatty Guitar Competition 2011 Grand Prize Winner and 2012 Finalist, Katie Cho, who, at the ripe old age of 12, played Leyenda as her opening competition piece back in March, was beaming with pride for being part of that inner Leyenda circle (I can’t help thinking he must have played it for her).
By the time Pepe ended the program with his Father’s Fantasia Cubana, he had taken the audience through five centuries of music that convinced me how likely it would be that we would recognize our ancestors if they returned from the dead. Despite the hundreds of years gone by, there is still a lot to recognize in the gifts they’ve left us. The program was a rich history of the Spanish oeuvre, a rare program even for a classical guitar series. It’s no wonder Carol Marlow turned to me at the reception and, with a fire in her eyes, said, “See! That’s where classical guitar comes from, it comes from Spain! So, many young performers forget this!”
She is so right. It truly was a stellar close to a glorious season and one I hope this listener never forgets. Look forward to seeing you next season…”
-D. Drayer, Silver Spring, MD