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Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999) - Concierto de Aranjuez, for Guitar and Orchestra

In spite of being left virtually blind by a dose of diphtheria, Rodrigo became the Twentieth Century’s most acclaimed and honoured Spanish composer and teacher. Most of us know the adagio from his Concierto de Aranjuez, some of us the whole work, but, it seems, scarcely a soul knows several of his many works. Why? According to Julian Bream, “The success of Concierto de Aranjuez has somehow eclipsed Rodrigo’s other works.” 

That “somehow” is no mystery: it isn’t his finest work by a long chalk but, despite the Fantasia para un Gentilhombre, it’s the most tuneful, engaging, evocative and colourful. Yet, the broadcast media (in particular) insist on promoting the adagio in isolation, even though the rest is less than half the work. Again, why? Beats me - there’s no good reason. On its own, the adagio is like a picture without its frame. 

Yet, that “frame” is indispensable, because it provides the complement and contrast to really bring the “picture” to life. The adagio’s sultry Spanish sunset opens with the guitar accompanying a cor anglais. Whilst orchestral lines breathe deeply and evenly the soloist, like some minstrel, spins improvisatory arabesques around the notes of the melody. By contrast, a conforming soloist leads off both sides of the “frame”, brass button-bright with pin-sharp orchestral attack echoing the guitar - even the winds sound “plucked”. Tingling with vitality, ear-catching motivic materials glint kaleidoscopically over and within the first movement’s toe-pleasing strumming and the finale’s toe-teasing syncopations. In my book, this is well worth ten minutes of anybody’s time. 

Note originally commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony for a concert given on 28 May 2005

© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street, Kamo, Whangarei 0101, Northland, New Zealand


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