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Andrés ISASI (1890-1940)
Symphony No. 2 in G minor Op. 23 (1915) [43:58]
Suite No. 2 in E major Op. 21 (Idyll, Burleske, Fugue) (1915) [11:43]
Bilbao Symphony Orchestra/Juan José Mena Rec. Palacio Euskalduna, Bilbao, 29-31 Aug 2001. DDD
NAXOS 8.557584 [56:08]

I last wrote about Isasi when reviewing the Claves CD of his orchestral works from the Berlin period, 1911-14.

Andrés Isasi y Linares (known as Andrés Isasi) was born in Bilbao on 28 October 1890. Towards the end of the first decade of the 20th century he went to study with that ardent Wagnerian, Engelbert Humperdinck in Berlin. He returned to Bilbao in 1914 to a musical scene obsessed with song and the musical theatre. He stuck doggedly with romantic orchestral music and the style he had evolved while in Germany. The public were not supportive. Although his Second Symphony was performed throughout Spain during the period 1915-19, he found it increasingly difficult for his music to makes headway. Like Bax and Vaughan Williams he was not dependent on music to make a living. When his orchestral works found a lukewarm or cold reception he moved to the family home in Algorta where, in addition to acting as a Maecenas to various Basque artists, he continued to write orchestral works that found more success abroad than in Spain. His Second Symphony did well in Budapest in 1931. In total there are two symphonies, three suites, various tone poems, a piano concerto, many songs, choral items and piano solos. He died at Algorta, without the consolation of any musical revival, on 6 April 1940.

The Second Symphony opens in a hothouse wash of stress and storm. This is music more magniloquent, complex and less expressionist than his Berlin works. The textures are so rich that they tend to choke. The treatment moves between the styles of Wagner and Tchaikovsky. On the other hand there are lighter and more idyllic moments but these soon boil back into Tchaikovskian ferment (try 11.20, tr. 1). The second movement (Adagio) is soupily Straussian with a touch of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. This is followed by a dry-as-a-one Mephistophelean pizzicato Scherzo which opens out into a swaying quasi-waltz - almost Ravel. The Allegro Vigoroso is grand, anthem-like, full of the sort of pomp to be found to the finales of Glazunov’s fifth and eighth symphonies but without quite the wings of Glazunov’s inspiration.

The Suite (the second of three) fares much better. As Richard Whitehouse’s notes usefully point out, the Idyll has the sultry lambent exoticism of Isasi’s Berlin tone poems. There are momentary parallels with Griffes’ Peacock, Baines Thoughtdrift and Island of the Fey, Bax’s small tone poems and Eric Fogg’s Sea-Sheen. The Burleske possesses similar qualities mixed with Sibelius’s lighter music; I thought of the Sibelius’s Belshazzar’s Feast music. Fugue sports a Stokowskian glow (Bach organ transcriptions) and the triumphant flavour of Sibelius’s Second Symphony.

The Bilbao orchestra do not possess a luxuriance of string tone. In fact, in the Symphony, they sound quite emaciated and almost queasy on occasion. This is not the sort of sound expected from a top-flight orchestra. Things seem to improve for the Suite.

Even so this disc will satisfy your curiosity (in the case of the Suite much more) but would not make me rush out to track down everything by Isasi. If you want a more intriguing anthology then the Claves is the set to have although it is at full price.

I hope though that we will hear from Sr. Mena and his Bilbao orchestra again. Guridi’s Sinfonia Pirenaica awaits.

Rob Barnett


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