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Friday, December 20, 2013

Ashkenazy and the Romeros

From the Vault Dept.: A double-feature look-back to 1985, when I was able to see (and write about) concerts by the Romeros, the guitar-playing quartet of father and sons, and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, back when Proctor’s in Schenectady made unremunerative attempts to program classical music. Here are my reviews.


A FORMER STUDENT of one of the Romeros once said “one of them is the finest guitarist in America. The question is, which one?”

Los Romeros, c. 1978
It’s a fitting statement, the truth of which was borne out at Sunday afternoon’s concert by the four Romeros – father and three sons – at the Egg. Four distinct personalities emerged, especially in the solos taken by each.

The concert began with a transcription of a Telemann concerto, followed by the last movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6. The latter allowed the group to sparkle with dazzling runs and perfect coordination.

Angel, the youngest brother and in some ways the flashiest, played Tarrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra,” a melancholy piece which seems, to some, to be the essence of Spanish guitar. Hollywood of the 40s would have loved this man playing this piece – he’s much more dreamy-eyed than, say, Iturbi.

Pepe Romero played Albeniz’s “Sevilla” in his own transcription. Pepe, the middle brother, is a little more flashy; his older brother Celin, who played Albeniz’s “Leyenda” during the second half, is the most studious-looking: his solo was more thoughtful.

Father Celedonio played an original “Fantasie” which called forth many technical capabilities of the instrument, yet all in the context of a piece characteristically Spanish, with Flamenco rhythms and the accompaniment of his own drumming on the box.

The quartet was at its best with “Torrobiana,” which opened the second half and is a suite by Pepe based on themes by Federico Torroba, one of which became or came from the stirring folksong “Venga Jaleo.” A “Carmen” suite arranged by Pepe and Angel was more tentative, sounding as if it were new to them.

Bringing the concert to a close were two pieces by Falla which brought together all of the personalities and Spanish flavorings suggested throughout the concert, and which prompted the audience to call for much-deserved encores.

– Albany Knickerbocker News, 15 January 1985


VLADIMIR ASKHENAZY WALKED ONSTAGE at Proctor’s Theater in a dark blue suit, his graying hair wildly askew, and played a program of Rachmaninoff and Chopin as area concertgoers must have been dying to hear it played. He caressed and harried such a range of sounds from the piano that it seemed as if an exorcist, and not a tuner, would be needed the next day.

Vladimir Ashkenazy
Unfortunately, some members of Sunday night’s audience seemed literally to be dying, judging from the astonishing variety of coughs and throat-clearings which continued, unceasing, throughout the performance.

Then there are those people so in need of phone calls and time checks that they let the whole audience know, with electronic beeps. They should instead receive that information through electronic shocks.

The program began with Rachmaninoff’s “Corelli” Variations, which is a lovely mixture of the Baroque and, well, Rachmaninoff. He turns a petite chaconne into a towering set of variants, with the usual interlude of loveliness. The six Etudes-Tableaux which followed were miniatures of color and contrast.

For the second half, Ashkenazy chose five pieces by Chopin: A Ballade, two Nocturnes, an Impromptu, and, to finish, the ebullient Scherzo No. 3. Ashkenazy, like Sviatoslav Richter; has never allowed himself to be categorized as any particular composer’s pianist, and rightly so. To each composer he brings a fitting voice and an astonishing technical facility.

The piano at Proctor’s unfortunately shows its deficiencies in a concert like this, unamplified and very demanding. It has a very noisy middle register which can be awfully distracting. Perhaps fortunately, there was enough coughing going on to distract us from that.

– Albany Knickerbocker News, 15 January 1985

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