The music of Joaquin Rodrigo and Federico Moreno Torroba is hardly neglected by guitarists. In fact, by including some of the influences on those Spanish masters, you might form a history of the conservative side of the instrument around their works.
That seemed to be the idea Saturday and Sunday at Ambassador Auditorium, where Pepe Romero and family and friends presented a two-part homage to Rodrigo and Torroba.
The greatest revelations and most magical moments came Sunday afternoon, when half the program was devoted to song. However familiar the solos and concertos of Rodrigo and Torroba may be, their sophisticated and wide-ranging lyric output seldom gets any kind of exposure, let alone the seductive enhancements that can come from Elly Ameling.
The Dutch soprano has the rare combination of purity and intensity that perfectly captures such shimmering flights of doomed sentiment as Rodrigo's "Adela" or Torroba's "A donde va la nina?" Sunday, she was in fine voice, projecting long lines with even, gleaming sound and turning the characteristic ornaments with pertinent agility.
Her Spanish may not be Castilian, but it served well enough for both pointed narrative and pert humor. In addition to Rodrigo and Torroba groups, Ameling also sang three of Falla's truly popular "Siete canciones populares espanolas" and Granados' zarzuela-influenced gems "El tra la la y el punteado" and "El majo discreto."
Pepe Romero provided unduly deferential accompaniments, often reduced to inarticulate background murmurs. When he did project, he did so with stylish flair.
Reticence, however, is not a Romero trait. The Sunday program ended with the family guitar quartet in typically ebullient fashion.
The ensemble itself, though, is not as we have known it. The lineup now lists Celedonio, Celin, Pepe and Celino--three generations of guitarists. Angel Romero was not only missing on stage, his name was even purged from the program note on the group. Ironically Angel--the crown prince of the royal family of the guitar, as Ambassador publicity would have it--offers a recital with his son Lito on the same stage Saturday.
Celino, the newest Romero, looked lost at times, but when sure of his place delivered some confident and technically quite secure solos. The program--including encores--featured Torroba's "Estampas," two movements arranged from Rodrigo's "Concierto madrigal," and works by Ernesto Halffter, Falla, Chapi, Gimenez and Celedonio Romero, in rough, vigorous performances. Earlier, Rodrigo's "Serenata al alba de dia" had the real benefit of Susan Greenberg's elegant, supple flute playing, in deft partnership with Pepe Romero.
Saturday evening, Pepe had the stage to himself. He used the music and seemed to need it for Rodrigo's "Sonata al espanola," blunt in spirit though technically accomplished. He proved more fluid in Torroba's "Suite castellana" and "Aires de la Mancha," and included the trite but virtuoso "Seguidillas manchegas" of Federico Moreno Torroba Jr.
For historical context he surrounded those and other Rodrigo pieces with crisp, stylistically innocent accounts of Mudarra's "Fantasia que contrahze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico" and Sor's Sonata, Opus 15b, and eminently moody and flavorful interpretations of Tarrega's "Capricho arabe" and an Albeniz group.