I must admit that I
had not heard of Andrés Isasi
until I received this CD for review.
And more is the pity. Let me say at
the outset that I am seriously impressed
with the two works presented on this
CD by Naxos.
A few brief biographical
details may help. Andrés Isasi
was born in the Spanish city of Bilbao
in 1890. He was still quite young when
he started to learn the piano. He worked
locally with a musician called Unceta
before moving to Berlin in 1910 to study
composition with Karl Kampf and Engelbert
Humperdinck. The latter composer introduced
him to the structure of large-scale
symphonic works. He returned to Spain
but in spite of the fact that he is
virtually unknown in our day he became
a noted composer. Although he had composed
much before he went to Germany, these
works were mainly songs and small-scale
pieces. It was on his return that he
turned his thoughts to composing for
the orchestra and began a series of
ambitious symphonic works.
‘Germanic’ turn to his music did not
appeal to the local Spanish audience.
He seemed to be better appreciated in
Eastern Europe, where the present symphony
was championed. However Isasi was never
in need of money and could accept the
fact that destiny was not moving in
his direction. He died, virtually forgotten,
at Algorta in 1940.
has a considerable catalogue of works
to his name, nearly all of them unknown.
There are two symphonies, a number of
concerti, five string quartets and a
large variety of choral, vocal and instrumental
The keynote of the
two works presented here is a strong
sense of continuity with the great post-romantic
European symphonic tradition. He had
an obvious gift for creating interesting
and attractive melodies. He was a master
of the orchestra and this is well reflected
in both the Symphony and the Suite.
If there is a criticism of his style
it is that it is a bit derivative; we
hear a variety of influences including
Richard Strauss and Frederick Delius.
But this is not really a problem – no
composer works in a vacuum.
The Second Symphony
(1931) cannot be regarded as a great
masterpiece; it is a competent essay
in this medium. The big advantage it
has is that it is quite simply enjoyable.
This is a large-scale work lasting some
three quarters of an hour; it is in
the traditional four movement form.
The first movement
has a tremendous Straussian feel. There
are a number of long slow build-ups
which never reach their final destination,
but slip away into more reflective music.
There are also some delicious moments
for woodwind here. Eventually Isasi
reaches his climatic goal with some
fine melodic writing. I wonder if he
had been listening to Tristan when he
composed this! There is a contrasting
little marching theme that takes the
pressure off the ‘plunging romanticism’
but the passion soon returns. The movement
ends quietly. The music is afflicted
with a pervasive sense of meandering.
I wonder where it is going! And the
imbalance between the passionate and
the trivial can be a little disappointing.
Yet, it is a good opening movement that
shows considerable skill and invention
But it is in the adagio
that we hear Andrés Isasi at
his most expressive. The programme notes
liken the tonal world of this movement
to the music of Delius. And it is not
hard to see why. This is a truly lovely
sustained movement. There are darker
moments and greater passion in the central
section, but the generally restrained
mood wins the day. Normally I would
never say this, but this movement could
well stand on its own. Maybe not the
absolute height of romanticism but it
comes jolly close in my book. There
are moments when one could easily shed
a tear. Great stuff!
is actually quite a tightly organised
movement. The main theme is ‘a spiky
idea played pizzicato and col legno
by the violins.’ This is definitely
attractive and extremely well scored
music. The trio section naturally contrasts
with the ‘minuet’ but the opening material
seems to be bubbling just under the
The opening of the
last movement is contrapuntal. There
is almost a Beethovenian feel here.
And there are echoes of Jesus Joy
of Man’s Desiring! A lovely soaring
tune for the strings lifts the music
considerably. Although there are many
good things here, this is the weakest
movement. Somehow it just does not cohere,
which is a pity as some of the ‘sections’
and ‘motifs’ are extremely satisfying.
The Suite No.2 in
E major (1930) is not a heavyweight
work. It is apparently related to the
symphonic poem style that the composer
developed after his sojourn in Berlin.
The first movement
is an Idyll; it has some oriental
scale type material in these pages.
This is quite meditative; once again
we are conscious of Delius in some of
the ruminations. The Burleske
is almost in classic ‘light’ music style
- and none the worse for that. The orchestration
is excellent with many shades of colour
and light. The final Fugue is
more an exercise in counterpoint than
an academic fugue – yet at the outset
there is almost the intimacy of a string
quartet. Soon the orchestra brushes
this away and a whole heap of ideas
are tossed around. The work ends confidently.
This is an attractive
release. Perhaps it is not essential
listening, however for lovers of late-romantic
music that is totally listenable and
enjoyable it will be a valuable addition
to their CD collection. The CD is only
56 minutes long; one feels that Naxos
could have found another short work
to fill up the space to about 70 minutes.
There is little information on the ‘Web’
about Isasi and he does not feature
in the more readily available musical
dictionaries. Perhaps a little more
in the way of programme notes might
have been helpful.
The playing by Isasi’s
home orchestra is without fault. They
are well able to create the magic that
this music engenders.
see also review
by Rob Barnett