Apart from the inherent musical strengths of Friday’s appearance by Los Romeros at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theater, sentiment ran unusually high.
A rare Southern California appearance by the family, the concert was advertised as a tribute to the late patriarch Celedonio Romero, who died a little more than a year ago.
A large portrait of Celedonio graced the stage, alongside no fewer than six musical Romeros (including a brief appearance by his castanets-playing widow). Not coincidentally, the highly influential classical guitarist made his U.S. debut in this theater exactly 39 years ago, soon after the family resettled from Spain to the San Diego area.
Theirs is a family saga unique in music. Celedonio launched a celebrated guitar quartet with his sons Pepe, Celin and Angel, and it performed for decades. The group changed personnel as the octogenarian Celedonio stopped performing. Angel left the group in 1990, replaced by Celin’s son, Celino, and Angel’s son, Lito, completed the new cross-generational group.
At the Lobero, the family served up a mostly Spanish program and appeared in diverse combinations, in solos, duets, and quartet pieces that revealed their cohesive mesh. Quartet highlights included the impressive “Estampas,” written for the Romeros by Federico Moreno Torroba, the fluid bustle of Boccherini’s Fandango and the fiery melodicism of De Falla’s “Danza ritual del feugo.”
Pepe is the most masterful and seamless of them, as he demonstrated with his expressive take on Joaquin Malats’ “Serenata exponola,” transcribed by Celedonio from a piano original. The grandsons paid respects to Celedonio by performing his compositions, including pieces from his ode to the homeland, “Suite Andaluz.”
Breaking out of the guitar lineage, Pepe’s pianist daughter, Angelina Romero Kessner, backed her father on excerpts from Gounod’s opera “Faust.” Her solo reading of Chopin’s Fantasie, Impromptu, Opus 66 seemed out of place here, not only because of a sudden shift to piano: Her too-feathery touch and tentative approach made Chopin sound undercooked. No matter, really: This was an emotional family affair, and ears were forgiving.
Life with the Romeros carries on with a remarkable continuity. The younger Romeros are developing nicely, displaying the instinctive traits of a richly musical gene pool, and Pepe, in particular, projects a profound, bone-deep singular musicality on his family’s instrument.