Narcisco Yepes: The Beginning of a Legend = RODRIGO: Concierto de Aranguez; DE VISEE: Sarabande & Bourree; RAMEAU: Menuet; SCARLATTI: Sonata, L. 352; BACH: Gavotte from Suite No. 6, BWV 1012; SOR: 3 Menuets from Op. 11; Rondo, Op. 22; MILAN: 2 Pavanas; SANZ: Folias; ANON: Jeux interdits; Chanson populaire – Narcisco Yepes, guitar/ Madrid Chamber Orchestra/ Ataulfo Argenta – IDIS 6620, 55:54 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
Controversial Spanish guitar virtuoso Narcisco Yepes (19127-1997) came to be associated with both clarity and coldness in his playing, praised for his articulation of contrapuntal detail in his rendering of Bach and Fernando Sor, and damned for his crisp but colorless technique. Critics lavished praise on Segovia and Bream for their warmth, but they found in Yepes an unaccountable stiffness despite the sheer wizardry of his consummate guitar technique, which eventually absorbed the 10-string instrument of his own invention. This collection captures the elegant musician 1953-1957, just a few years after his ground-breaking studio performance of the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranguez in Madrid with Ataulfo Argenta (1913-1958) of 16 December 1947, the magic of which recurs in their recorded performance made in 1957. Their haunted realization of the famous Adagio found its way to the ears of Miles Davis and Gil Evans for their Sketches of Spain.
Besides the lean but resonant beauties of the Rodrigo concerto, the music from Rene Clement’s 1952 film Forbidden Games, involves another moment of controversy in the ascription of the music Jeux interdits to Yepes, who claimed to have conceived the “Romance” tune despite the fact that an early recording of the little masterpiece exists from c. 1900. The two pieces by Visee open with a variant of La Folia, made famous by Corelli, Glinka, and Liszt. Here, its Spanish grace in the form of a noble Sarabande precedes a jaunty bourree in olden style, its Renaissance sensibility demure and spirited. The Chanson populaire presents a simple accompanied melody that moves to a high register that creates a sweet antiphon.
The Rameau Menuet opens a series of courtly and rustic dances set by Baroque masters. Its strummed and trilled middle section offers pre-Romantic ardor. If Leonid Kogan represented the patrician form of violin playing, so too does Yepes for the guitar. The Scarlatti sonata plays off two distinct registers, perfect for the harpsichord but no less chiseled on guitar by Yepes’ clean, dancing staccati.  The Bach Gavotte assumes a generous luminous aura by Yepes’ florid account, poised in articulate motion.
Under the steely fingers of Narcisco Yepes, the music of Fernando Sor (1778-1839) assumes a resonance reminiscent of Anton Karas’ magical zither in Carol Reed’s The Third Man. The A Major Menuet, Op. 11, No. 8 invokes the Alhambra. The exuberant Rondo in C from Op. 22 easily suggests the larger quintets of Luigi Boccherini. The G Major Menuet, Op. 11, No. 1 could easily pass for the music of Haydn, its alternation of loud and soft dynamics intrinsically charming. The G Major Menuet, Op. 11, No. 3 bears a militant stance momentarily then breaks into aspects of canto jondo and ballata.
Luis Milan (1500-c.1561) remains best known for his premier collection of vihuela music, the Iberian Renaissance guitar. His two Pavanas strike a note of regal carriage rife with restrained passion. Pedagogue and virtuoso Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710) bequeaths us a gentle Folias, a series of embellished variants that likes to return to the original tune with its gracious turns and trills. For Yepes, it finds that “golden mean” between bravura self-aggrandizement and modest luxury.
—Gary Lemco