Fort Worth — Pepe Romero is one of the world’s greatest guitarists and his solo appearance in Fort Worth on Thursday was an occasion. The Piano Pavilion at the Kimbell Art Museum was sold out and there was a line waiting to get in. This is not usually the case with classic guitar concerts, although the ones presented by the Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society/Allegro Guitar Society of Dallas are of the same high quality. But, even in the rarified world of guitars, a name is a name.
Pepe Romero has a very well earned name and he proved his bona fides again. He delivered an immaculate performance of an evening of Spanish music. The actual selections mattered little; only a few were familiar to a general audience. In fact, the program was difficult to follow and many of us lost track of where we were as the recital went along. However, the music suited a virtuoso’s recital: a catalog of guitar technique, made all the more impressive by the reserved way Romero tossed it all off.
The first half of the program was dedicated to the music of Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909), a guitarist who wrote a lot of music mostly for his own use as a recitalist. It was easy to wish that his most famous piece, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, had been on the program, but it is hard to complain about what was included. Romero gave us a broad overview of his other works. The last one, Gran Jota, is a series of variations that utilizes almost every special effect and technical trick in the book. The most arresting one had the guitar sounding like a snare drum, which happens by holding two of the strings together so they buzz without pitch.
The second half started out with some familiar music, the most familiar being Sevilla by Isaac Albéniz. While this started out as a piece for piano, it entered the general awareness as a work for guitar. The program ended with a composition by Celedonio Romero, father of Pepe and his siblings, who make up the Romero Guitar Quartet.
The quartet started out in 1960 with Celedonio Romero, with sons Celin, Pepe, and Ángel. In 1990, Angel went out on his own and was replaced by the first of the next generation, Celino Romero. The death of Celedonio brought in Lito Romero, in 1996, to complete the quartet.
As mentioned earlier, the program was hard to follow and I had trouble telling exactly what was being played at any given moment. One of the reasons for this was that the music was all very similar. The cognoscenti knew these pieces, but differentiating one from the other, especially in the first half, was difficult for most of us.
Another reason was the paucity of information in the program. Some program notes would have been more helpful than two breathless pages of biography.
However, the main fault of this disconnect has to be laid at Romero’s feet. He made no effort whatsoever to connect with the audience. He entered, gave a curt bow, sat down, and played. Occasionally, signaling the end of a section, he stood and made small bows, letting his megawatt smile break through. But, most of the time, he stared at his hands from about six inches away for the entire recital—he never looked up. Nor did he offer a single spoken word to help us follow along.
This is not to say that performers need to do stand-up, act as a narrator, or indulge in stories of when they last played one or more of these pieces. However, a couple of words about what we were going to hear next would have greatly enhanced the evening.
Besides, it would have been nice if we had been able to get a feel for Romero’s personality.