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MUSIC REVIEW : Guitarist Pepe Romero Displays His Sophistication at Ambassador

December 07, 1987|JOHN HENKEN

Guitarist Pepe Romero has always had an amazingly facile technique and an exuberant, easily roused musical personality. Now 44, he appears a more settled, sophisticated interpreter, but Saturday evening at Ambassador Auditorium, the crowd-pleasing fire seemed controlled by a thermostat.

Though the pieces change, his programs seldom vary in outline, dominated by miniatures and character pieces in readily accessible styles. The Villa-Lobos centennial, however, gave him two sets of relatively substantial music.

The Brazilian composer's Five Preludes, from 1940, have never needed an anniversary to inspire performances. Romero's accounts fluctuated between highly personal reinterpretations that amounted almost to rescorings, and perfunctory playing in which his fingers sometimes seemed to run out of music while his mind was elsewhere. He capped the set with the Etude No. 1.

The early "Suite Populaire Bresilienne" is not often heard, and Romero needed the score. His playing, though, was fluent and much more focused than in the Preludes--dynamically balanced and subtle in rhythmic detail.

Five "Aires de la Mancha" by Moreno Torroba provided similarly grateful vehicles for Romero's idiosyncratic style, and drew equally deft, concentrated readings.

Romero's arrangements of familiar pieces by Albeniz are quite individual, freer than most and more flamenco-oriented. The results in "Rumores de la Caleta" proved inspired, as did the quick, brilliant playing. "Sevilla," though, sounded rushed and overly busy.

The guitarist began with a vigorous reading of Sor's unprepossessing Sonata in C, Opus 15, and closed the first half with a rhetorically vivid "Fantasie Hongroise" by Johann Kaspar Mertz. "La Petenera," a quasi-flamenco funeral march by his father, Celedonio Romero, completed the printed bill.

A strenuous ovation brought Romero back for three encores: two flamenco numbers and "Recuerdos de la Alhambra."

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