Pepe Romero makes his guitar talk to itself.
The 50-year-old Spanish musician--heard Thursday night at Ambassador Auditorium--never just plays a piece, never just makes it sing. He creates a conversation with it, a conversation between the musical parts, a dialogue on one instrument.
Though much of his repertory Thursday was virtuosic, his playing gave it an interior feel. Quick notes impeccably dispatched were plentiful, to be sure, but they were rendered more like fleeting thoughts than the main order of business.
In a program of mostly Spanish music--short works by Sor, Sanz, Turina, Rodrigo, Torroba, Brouwer and others--Romero revealed a fluidity of tempo that perhaps only a native speaker can achieve. Few musicians can be this flexible with the unwinding of a piece and yet never sound self-indulgent. He seems to know exactly where an emphasis lies, how long to pause, where to push, when to float poetically. This music is his Shakespeare, not just notes on a page.
And, with the help of tasteful amplification, Romero draws you into that music. You overhear what's going on. You find yourself leaning forward, breathing steadily and he'll suddenly hammer a fortissimo chord, an ambush.
A list of his technical arsenal would be catalogue-length--most of it could be heard in his father's dazzling "Suite andaluza"--but Romero is not a flashy musician. He smiles and then plays, with great concentration, and uses his means reasonably for illumination.
Perhaps he makes some of this music sound greater than it is, but that's hard to say. His introspective, detailed approach reveals textural complexities, voicings, colors, cross-references and footnotes that the composers may only have half realized. At any rate, it works.
There were three encores, the first of which, Tarrega's "Recuerdos de la Alhambra," he offered as "a prayer to save this building."