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December 15, 2008

Los Romeros - Carmen & others

"The Royal Family of the Guitar" they're called. The mighty Spanish family of classical guitar virtuosos, led by their fearless patriarch Celedonio Romero. He and his 3 boys, Pepe, Angel, and Celin rose to fame in the late '50s or early '60s as the greatest guitar quartet in the world, and have been going strong ever since. It's difficult to immagine contemporary groups such as the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet without the precedent of the Romeros.

What made them so good? Well, perfection would be the obvious answer, but it's a vague and heavily-loaded word. The perfection that the Romeros achieved has to do with timing. You see, they not only play cascades of perfect 16th and 64th notes, but they do so in total unison so that the four become as one -- you cannot immagine pulling any one guitar out of the mix, because you cannot even here where one ends and the next begins.

This perfection of timing and unity did not come overnight. Celedonio, loving taskmaster that he was, would practice with his children for two hours before breakfast. And you can just imagine what they did with the rest of their day. All the while, the blessed matriarch of the family, Angelita, was no-doubt slaving away in the kitchen. But Mrs. Romero, angel that she was, was no stay-at-home mom. She was a cultural and artistic mecca all to herself, travelling the world with them and accompanying the more passionate, spanish guitar pieces with her impeccable castanet-playing (her castanets were even blessed by Pope John Paul II). "An avid reader and philosopher, she enhanced their education with weekly trips to art museums. In teaching the young Pepe, she dictated the entire text of Cervantes' Don Quixote to him. She kept his hand-written copy as one of her greatest treasures."

All the members of the original quartet have had distinguished solo careers, playing with many of the best orchestras in the world. Celedonio has written many enduring compositions for the guitar that stand on an equal level with his technical skills. And the grandchildren of the family have picked up guitars and joined the group too (though it still remains a quartet -- Celedonio died in '96).

As for the qualities of this music, well, it's thouroughly classical and mostly Spanish. I say mostly because Georges Bizet's "Carmen" suite isn't really spanish, it's a French romantic opera with Spanish tinges. And, legendary as it is, it still has a certain upper-class 19th-century French flavor to it (though in truth, it stands high above most other works of the genre). And though it is impeccably adapted and played, and though it has a compellingly addictive melody, I'd say it's actually the weakest part of the album. Manuel de Falla's dances are fantastic and ruthlessly passionate. Notice the difference between the Romero's interpretation of Danza Española from La Vida Breve with Pablo Casals' version of the same, posted a while back. While Casals draws forth the mournful qualities, the Romeros inject it with the kind of drive and vitality (enhanced by Angelita's vigorous hand-claps) that makes you realize why the Spanish are such legendary lovers.

But the Romeros are not without depth and subtlety. They draw forth a vivid desperation from Torroba's Sonatina Trianera that brings to mind a walk through the poverty-torn streets of a ravaged post-war Spain. But even in these slum-tunnels, chins are held high, people are celebrating the fruits of life. The music carries the listener through the sweat and bruises of daily life to glimpses of the raw beauty that those cuts and bruises disguise.

Los Romeros - Bizet: Carmen; de Falla: Dances; Torroba: Sonata
Label: Phillips
Year: 1984
cast a net.
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 71mb

I'm pretty sure this one's out-of-print. Very difficult to find, anyway.

1 comment:

J. Scott Moore said...

This one I'll try also...looks tasty!
Thank you