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Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Retablo de Navidad (1952) * ²
Hymns of the Neophytes of Qumran (1965-74) ¹
Music for a Salamancan Codex (1953) ²
Canticle of Saint Francis of Assisi (1982)
Raquel Lojendio, soprano *
Victoria Marchante, soprano ¹
Ada Allende, soprano ¹
María Jesús Prieto, soprano ¹
David Rubiera, baritone ²
Orchestra and Chorus of the Comunidad de Madrid/José Ramún Encinar
Rec. Sede de la Orquestra y Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid, Hortaleza, Madrid, Spain, 9-12 July 2002.
Complete Orchestral Works Volume 7
NAXOS 8.557223 [71.48]

 

A glorious disc of otherwise unavailable Rodrigo works for various voices and orchestra which yet again gives the lie to the idea of the great Spaniard as a classical "one hit wonder". Marvellous as Aranjuez is, it is barely representative, let alone definitive as regards the composer's complete oeuvre. The only piece here I was in any way familiar with was the Retablo, a set of Christmas carols and songs, excerpts from which appeared on a BBC Music Magazine cover-mount disc a couple of years ago. The settings are for soprano and bass with chorus and orchestra. The overall feeling is of a slightly archaic, mildly melancholic, pastoral theme - very typical for Rodrigo - of great beauty and instant appeal all within a relatively spare, economical musical environment. Here I cannot really disagree with Naxos's view that, in his choral works, Rodrigo combines "simple earthy folksong with a deep and devout sense of spirituality". I would also say that A la Chiribirivuela and A la Clavelina are songs of total celebration that simply beg to be heard.

Elsewhere, Rodrigo demonstrates his depth and breadth of vision and his ability to think a great deal more laterally than the average 20th century composer. On the last issue in this superb series, itself a sub-series of the indispensible ‘Spanish Classics’, In Search of What Lies Beyond, dedicated to NASA, displayed an inspiration, if not quite a radicalism, worthy of a Messiaen. This profound searching spirit is reprised with the remarkable Hymns of the Neophytes of Qumran, the texts being adapted from the Dead Sea Scrolls. This music is probably as ascetic and avant-garde (nonophony, anyone?) as this composer gets. It is still fascinatingly accessible, among the ancient sounding bells, windchimes(?) and the like. Listening to it is like eavesdropping on an ancient ritual (surely what the composer intended) but with an energy and dynamic that seems somewhat more urgent than is associated with the likes of Tavener and Pärt. The uninitiated might well imagine that this piece is by someone similar.

The Music for a Salamancan Codex is quite possibly the best of the lot, with folk and renaissance influences blending perfectly to create eleven minutes of pure magic. It is like Paul Hillier's Proensa and the soundtrack to a biblical epic, maybe El Cid, fused together but played and sung by chamber forces; escapist in some ways but some of the choral climaxes could almost be from VW or Dyson. Wonderful stuff! The following and concluding Canticle is also outstanding but more austere, revisiting Qumran in some of its percussive textures. Although in no way as intimidating to the uninitiated, the parallel with Olivier Messiaen is again obvious. This is found not just in the devotional subject matter but in a profound willingness to go against the cultural, or at least the artistic grain, in a genuine and public musical affirmation of faith in an age of doubt and unbelief. Rodrigo may not have been a revolutionary but, on this evidence and the rest of the Naxos series, he deserves and should command respect from a far wider audience than his equivalent of Holst's Planets seems to pigeon-holed him with.

Neil Horner

 



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