Pablo Sainz-Villegas ‘Soul of Spanish Guitar’ Album Review

Pablo Sainz-Villegas is the most accomplished classical guitarist on the scene today. In his early forties, with nearly a dozen albums to credit, he has applied his considerable talents to the works of revered composers on his most recent release Soul of Spanish Guitar.

“Asturias (Leyenda)”, a composition by the 19th century Spanish piano virtuoso Isaac Albéniz, opens the album. Transcribed for the guitar, it is a familiar showpiece calling forth the utmost in technique and musicality. It’s one of the most performed guitar pieces of all time, but rarely has it been executed as well as it is here by Pablo. His attack is both fierce and expressive, making this track an exciting opener to a faultless album of exceptional music-making.

The second track, “Spanish Romance”, is especially rewarding for the hauntingly slow and beautiful tempo the artist has chosen. The liquid, shimmering tones he achieves are remarkable with this seemingly slight work by an anonymous composer. Until, of course, you seek out almost any other recording of this piece and realize what restrained beauty Pablo renders from it.

A word or two about the range of his talent: Pablo brings forth a distinctive quality to every note. One moment he is as dark and mysterious as Segovia himself, the next he brings powerful elements of flamenco to stir up the emotions, and follows that with highly emotional readings of old chestnuts that reveal new textures for the discerning listener. As for technique. Pablo is a master of all, possessing a myriad of specialties usually gifted one at a time to other practitioners of the instrument: he possesses the classical rigor of Segovia, the musicality of Julian Bream, and the dazzling technical ability of John Williams. It is no wonder that Placido Domingo pronounced him “the Master of the Guitar and an Extraordinary Musician”.

Then there is the matter of dynamics, and no small matter it is when it comes to the classical guitar, a modest instrument in most hands. Pablo’s dynamic range is exceptional.

The highlights of this album are 5 compositions (including a rousing “Recuerdos de Alhambra”) by Francisco  Tárrega, and 4 by Albéniz (including a superb rendition of Tárrega’s “Mallorca”). The seldom-heard but very enjoyable “Gran joto de concierto” is a showpiece for Pablo’s felicity on the fingerboard and his unique dynamics. The closer, “Lagrima” is a heart-rending finale.

Pablo was a child prodigy, making his debut in his Spanish hometown at the age of eight, playing for neighbourhood events. He moved to New York in his early twenties and debuted at Lincoln Center in 2001. Since then he has played in more than 40 countries as a solo performer, and with orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Philharmonic of Israel, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the National Orchestra of Spain.

On December 29, 30 and 31 of 2020, he will be playing a series of New Year’s Eve concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic. The featured piece is the renowned “Concierto de Aranjuez”, composed by J. Rodrigo. Then, on January, he will play at Carnegie Hall, with special guest Branford Marsalis. Rodrigo’s “Fantasía para un gentilhombre” highlights the program. Now, if only travel were permitted…