This is Narciso Yepes's second recording of both the Concierto de Aranjuez and Fantasia para un Gentilhombre. Revisiting my notes on the DG CD release of this 1977 recording, I noted "not nearly as well played or recorded as his earlier recording". I thought I'd try this Pentatone SACD to see if an expert DSD remastering effort would change my initial reaction. Alas - no such luck.
I found the playing here to be consistently rather clunky and choppy. Yepes sounds like he's struggling to get the fingers to do what he wants. It lacks grace and finesse. Surprisingly, the Philharmonia play with a similar choppiness (in their two selections). The English Chamber Orchestra, conversely, play more graciously in their accompaniment on the Fantasia.
A persistent feeling all through this disc is that some of the problem with these readings may very well be the conductor, Garcia Navarro. Even allowing for some cumbersome playing from the soloist, the orchestral accompaniments are just so frustratingly matter-of-fact and lacking spontaneity. Turning to Yepes's earlier (1969) DG recordings with the Orquesta Sinfonica R.T.V. Espanola, conducted by Odon Alonso, one is instantly drawn into a more involving and musically immersive experience. Not only is it better played by all involved, the sound is better too - more spacious and full of orchestral color. Certainly, Yepes's playing is more effortlessly accomplished, and thus more musical.
The sound is only average, at best, even on SACD. It's somewhat 2-dimensional, lacking rich orchestral color and sounds a bit unrefined in the upper registers, just as it does on the DG CD. The sound is a little better with the ECO, so one might guess that the technicians were not completely successful in their attempts to keep an acceptable balance between the larger Philharmonia and the guitar. Whatever the reason, perhaps the added rear channels in surround-mode might improve the sound. (I listen to stereo SACD).
In sum, Pentatone can't work miracles. But I do wish they would have chosen the earlier 1969 recordings instead of these from 1977. However, I do understand that decision would defeat the purpose of this series of bringing DG's quadraphonic recordings from the 70s to surround-sound SACD. However, as a musical experience, this one just can't compare in any format. And it certainly can't begin to match nearly every other recording of these works that comes to mind.