Notes and Editorial Reviews
In the decades since the review disc material was originally recorded there has been exponential growth in interest in the classical guitar. Paralleling this are the numbers of people who play to concert standards and of those preoccupied with the short history of the instrument and its past champions.
During the period from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s the great José Rey de la Torre made twelve commercial recordings none of which are currently available. The review disc comprises material originally released in late 1950 or 1951 on the Philharmonia label (PH 106), later re-released on Elektra (EKL 244) and then again on Nonesuch (H-7123). It also includes a 1950 rendition of the Boccherini Quintet in D major
featuring the Stuyvesant String Quartet (Philharmonia PH 101). The final track is a previously unissued live performance of Etude No. 11 by Villa-Lobos.
Rey de la Torre was born in Gibara, Cuba in 1917 and died on 21 July 1994 in San José, California. A child prodigy, he studied guitar in Havana with Severino Lopez, a student of Miguel Llobet. In 1932 his family sent him to Barcelona to study under Llobet.
On 9 May 1934 Llobet presented him in a concert at the Academia Marshall together with a pianist and then shortly after in a solo recital. Both received rave reviews from the tough Barcelona critics. Catalan composer and critic Jaime Pahissa described Rey as the most complete guitarist he had heard. Another critic compared him not only with Llobet but also with Pablo Casals.
Rey moved to the U.S.A. in 1937 or 1938 to establish his concert career. Motivated in particular by homesickness he made several return trips to Cuba to give concerts after which his family moved from Cuba to New York to support him.
Around 1961, right at a time when his career was flourishing, he suffered a setback: the middle finger of his right hand became less responsive and was a challenge for a number of years until Marianne Eppens, a physical therapist, was able to isolate the cause and offer a remedy. In 1969 they were married and moved to California. In 1975 at the zenith of his career Rey was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease which ended his performing career a year later.
The guitar playing on the review disc is quite inspiring. Informative and comprehensive notes accompanying this disc refer to Rey’s ‘poetic, precise, playing still evident half a century on - his rich resonant tone, his exquisite phrasing and sense of line, his bravura technique and profound musicality’. Testimonial of these qualities is readily found on the disc including a splendid rendition of Albeniz’s Torre Bermeja - The Crimson Tower . We are reminded in the notes that, unlike much of what is recorded today, this particular recording was made without any edits.
Rey premiered Six Variations on a Theme by Milan  by composer/pianist Joaquin Nin-Culmell on 10 November 1947. Of him the composer said: ‘As a young player he was astounding. His playing was aristocratic and exact, quite different from the romantic, improvisational school of Segovia.’
The hitherto unreleased live performance of Etude No. 11 by Villa-Lobos is highly evocative of actually being at that very concert, coughs and all - not to mention the beautiful live guitar playing.
Given the vintage of the recordings the overall sonic qualities are quite good. No master tape was available for the solo recording so it was restored from a copy of the Elektra LP. The live recording of the Villa-Lobos Study has an eerie life-like quality.
Particularly touching is the great reverence, admiration and affection with which students, friends and associates refer to Rey de la Torre - also known as José, or Che - by that select group. Much of this is encapsulated in what ex-student Anthony Weller wrote in the accompanying notes: ‘Sometimes it is difficult to grasp how very quickly the vagaries of time can erase a performer’s legacy; the familiar name becomes an unfamiliar ghost. Now the classical guitar audience will have one of the instrument’s greatest poets, at his magnificent best, before them again, more than half a century later. May he never be forgotten.’
We can only hope that, like Mr Weller, future champions will emerge to ensure that past great exponents of the guitar, such as Jose Luis Gonzalez (1932-1998) will never become unfamiliar ghosts but forever be remembered for their magnificent contributions when the guitar had so few of their kind.
This is a highly important historical recording by one of the instrument’s greatest exponents.
-- Zane Turner, MusicWeb International
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