Classical guitar aficionados know that it comes no better than when it’s done by the Romeros. Factoring the sheer combined force of nature and nurture into the equation, it’s no surprise that the family contains several of the finest classical guitarists around. The senior half of the quartet, brothers Celin and Pepe Romero, are the sons of virtuoso Celedonio Romero. The patriarch had them playing before their fourth birthdays, and those six decades of practice have obviously paid off. The junior half of the quartet, cousins Celino and Lito Romero, had three times the number of virtuosos to look up to growing up. It couldn’t have been easy.
On Friday evening, the Romeros took the stage at the Lobero, long a favorite venue of theirs, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Celedonio’s 1958 recital, one of his first performances in America, in the very same theater. The program ranged from pieces as early as Gaspar Sanz’s 17th-century “Suite Espa±ola” to Isaac Albeniz’s surprisingly modern-sounding “Granada” to much newer material composed by Pepe Romero himself. They delivered all 10 stylistically diverse pieces, including a Vivaldi substituted in at the eleventh hour and a surprise flamenco improvisation to wrap things up, with the kind of composed passion that makes even the most hard-won instrumental maneuvers look effortless. It’s an ability that only develops after hundreds upon hundreds of demanding performances, the kind of skill that tempts audiences to explain it away as a miracle of inborn talent.
The Romeros make a point of stopping in Santa Barbara when they’re on tour, but even the die-hard fans who catch them every time, and there are many, had a rare treat in the appearance of Angel, Pepe and Celin’s younger brother, who made the quartet a quintet. Sidelined during most of the show due to a shattered disc from a recent surfing mishap, Angel nevertheless managed to play several stunning, unexpected solo pieces, all of which earned powerful ovations. In fact, solo playing provided most of the evening’s tours de force, as when Pepe simulated the sound of a drum with his guitar while still playing it. This wasn’t an ordinary fingers-rapping-on-the-body-of-the-guitar “drum” sound, either: Holding two strings down and plucking them just so, he actually created a snare drum sound of uncanny realism. It was a genuine “How does he do that?” moment for the audience, but for the Romeros, it was business as usual.