Pepe Romero

Local Arts Reviews

Pepe Romero

First Unitarian Universalist Church, Oct. 11

To watch Pepe Romero playing his guitar is to marvel at the variety of beautiful sounds one man can produce from a gorgeous stringed wooden box with his two hands and immeasurable sensitivity and imagination. Exquisite, nuanced, subtle -- there was something approaching the infinite in Romero's immaculate musicianship, such that it provoked gasps and tumultuous applause selection after selection in what seemed a leisurely tour of Spain via the classical guitar. The Austin Classical Guitar Society scored a great coup in booking this very special performer, who treated the sold-out house to a hypnotizing, intoxicating evening of Spanish grace and melody.

From the delicately light touch of Fantasía XVI by the 16th-century composer Luis Milan to the thumping flamenco-inspired "Fantasia" from his father's Suite Andaluza, Romero's fluidity and technical control were astonishing. Watching him play, it was easy to let the mind drift to images of pastoral Spain, the flurry of precise notes little windows on a country romanticized in its music. In the "Canzona" movement of Francisco de Madina's Suite Bucolica, then, were moments of melancholy -- or was it wistfulness? Then lightness and a sense of contentedness that breathed through the "Minuet" and the "Dance." The dark opening of Fernando Sor's Fantaisie Pour Guitare Seule gave way to subtle pleasures of a more upbeat mood. To say the music was full of emotion is to simplify somehow the complexities and subtleties of Romero's performance. The man has been performing for decades now -- he was born in 1944 into a family of brilliant guitarists and began to perform publicly when he was 7 -- and to see him play is to be captivated by his peacefulness in performance and his awesome ability to turn the most complicated technical passages into sweetly simple sounds. Now and again he'd look up, completely relaxed, perhaps to see if the audience was still there. Yes, we were.

Federico Torroba's Suite Castellana continued the mesmerization through Spanish sound with the "Fandanguillo"; the suite ending with the flourish of the charming "Danza." The first half of the evening ended with a trio of Isaac Albéniz pieces, including the intricate Leyenda, the more austere Granada, and the passionate flamenco strumming of the concluding Sevilla. After the intermission, it was more of the wonderful same as Romero explored all the possibilities of his guitar, including a phenomenal tour of harmonics in Heitor Villa-Lobos' Prelude No. 4 -- one of five delightful pieces by the composer. In Joaquín Rodrigo's En tierras de Jerez, a disordered, even threatening opening gave way to a gorgeous, peaceful conclusion. Romero paid homage to his father Celedonio Romero with the final selection, Celedonio's Suite Andaluza, providing still more unexpected delights, including finding ways to play the entire guitar (thumps, strums, plucks, harmonics, and that flamenco flair) in the "Zapateado," bringing the evening something of a full circle with the final "Fantasia."

Nothing was too much for Romero. In one of two encores, he pulled one bass string over another to turn his guitar into a snare drum. Nor did the digital pager that practically screamed its presence in the house cause the guitarist to lose concentration -- smiling gently as he looked toward the offending sound (and no doubt horrified pager owner), he seemed to incorporate its explosion of noise into his rhythm, as if the entire universe was on hand solely to provide the master whatever he needed to help add one more detail to the delightful Spanish sounds he wrought.

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Pepe Romero, Austin Classical Guitar Society, Luis Milan, Celedonio Romero, Suite Andaluza, Francisco de Madina, Suite Bucolica, Fernando Sor, Fantaisie pour Guitare Seule, Federico Torroba, Suite Castellana, Isaac Albéniz, Leyenda, Granada, Sevilla, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Prelude No. 4, Joaquin Rodrígo, En tierras de Jerez

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