Rare indeed is the opportunity to witness a legend and one of his progeny on successive evenings. Back-to-back guitar recitals by Andre's Segovia at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall last night, and by Larry Snitzler at the Great Falls Grange Sunday, however, invited more than a stylistic comparison between mentor and former pupil. In a broader sense, the two performances marked the vitality of the modern classical guitar tradition, as defined by Segovia and perpetuated by a younger master like Snitzler.
Snitzler, now based in the District, has inherited an unforced musicality and elegance of phrasing from his teacher, in addition to an admiration for the music of J.S. Bach, one of the greatest contributors (via transcriptions) to the classical guitar repertoire. His rendering of Bach's Suite No. 1 for Violoncello displayed a consistent warmth of tone, with subtle tone colors added as his right hand plucked the strings close to the bridge for the more stately dances.
This work, making up the bulk of the first half of the program, was but a warm-up for what was to come. Unlike Segovia, Snitzler not only performs but also composes pieces rich with angular lines and well-timed dissonances. His "Homenaje a Ignacio Fleta" (dedicated to the famous Barcelona luthier) matched a flowing melody with strident, unresolved chords, giving the impression of a guitarist figuratively in quest of an ideal instrument. Snitzler glowingly articulated Castelnuovo-Tedesco's "Tonadilla on the name of Andre's Segovia," which derives its theme from the composer's spelling the guitarist's name by assigning each letter of the Spanish alphabet to the notes on a chromatic scale. The procedure may sound difficult, but this modified serial technique achieves wondrous results--as if to say anything associated with Segovia automatically becomes mellifluous.
And in his hands, the guitar still rarely makes anything less than glorious music. The technical panache of yore may be in short supply, but Segovia's warmth and projection of emotion now reflect a consummate, at times retrospective, artistic glance. Throughout his program, he freely adapted the music to his purposes, opting for expressiveness rather than mere pedantry. His series of Bach dances, especially the Fugue, possessed a flexibility in tempo and phrasing often disparaged as overly Romantic; in fact, his liberty-taking made the pieces all the more idiomatic for six strings.
Segovia has always likened the guitar to a woman, apparently for good reason. With his Ramirez IV he rendered Ponce's "Sonata Mexicana" as a panoply of emotions, by turns lively and enticing, susurrant and sensuous. His concluding "Leyenda," a concert staple composed by Albe'niz, held the audience spellbound, and they exhaled one collective gasp on the final chord.
Stravinsky best summed up the Maestro's magical sound: "Segovia's guitar does not sound loud but it sounds far." To use more common parlance, it is a sound that is as elegant in the front row as it is in the rafters.