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Antonio JOSÉ (1902-1936)
Sinfonía castellana (Castilian Symphony) (1923) [28:33];
Suite de la ópera ’El mozo de mulas’ (The Muleteer) (1934) [8:44];
Evocaciones (Cuadros de danza campesina) (Sketches of country dancing) (1928) [6:48];
Marcha para soldados de plomo (March of the lead soldiers) (orch. Alejandro Yagüe) [3:13];
Suite ingenua for piano and strings (1931) [10:13]
Alberto Rosado (piano) (Suite ingenua)
Castile and León Symphony Orchestra/Alejandro Posada
rec. Teatro Lope de Vega, Valladolid, Spain, 16-19 July 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557634 [57:30]



Antonio José Martinez Palacios was his full name. He was born on 12 December 1902 in Burgos in Spain and showed great musical talent at an early age. When he was eighteen he was appointed orchestral conductor of the Teatro de la Latina but two years later was awarded a grant to continue his studies and moved to Madrid. Little is known about his time there but he wrote several large-scale works, among them the Sinfonia castellana, which is his most formally advanced orchestral work. His life was cut short when he was executed during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

I first came across his music quite recently when I reviewed a disc with Spanish guitar music, where his four movement Sonata from 1933 made a deep impression. When the present disc appeared I was interested to explore further his musical world. He was obviously influenced by the folk-music of his country and used songs from the anthology Folclore de Castilla o Cancionero popular de Burgos (Castilian Folk-Music, or Burgos Song-Book), published in 1903. Compositionally French impressionism was his model and there is more than one touch of Debussy to be found in his orchestral writing.

This is very obvious in his Sinfonía castellana, composed when he was only 21. It is in four movements and the first of these, El campo, marked Allegro, comes off to a dramatic start with a series of powerful tutti chords, interspersed with colourful impressionistic sounds. There is a rhythmic urgency that makes the music immediately attractive, and while the orchestral texture is rather thick and a bit bottom-heavy there are enough rays of light protruding to give it a sense of joy. The second movement, Paisaje de atardecer, is marked Andante con calma and has an unmistakable Debussian atmosphere with a prominent harp part and the orchestra all a-shimmer. In true impressionist manner it is quite immobile and dynamically withdrawn, though halfway through the movement it grows to a kind of climax. There are further attempts to break loose from the dominating stillness but it never comes to a real eruption. It is beautifully written, though. The third movement, Nocturno, marked Lento, is a really inward piece of music with beautiful string writing, presenting a long-drawn melody that really leads nowhere but gives the listener seven minutes of meditation. Two slow movements in a row may be too much of a good thing. It is after all a relief to hear the last movement, Danza burgalesa, which is built on rhythm and, like the first movement, based on folk-music themes. But after a minute and a half the Allegro vivo is supplanted by another section of soft and slow music, immensely beautiful, whereupon the dance returns with insistent percussion and step by step the full orchestra gets involved. Written by a young man who was still studying music it is an impressive composition and his handling of orchestral colours is something to admire. The mature composer might have compressed it a bit but it is definitely a work to return to.

The two pieces from José’s unfinished opera El mozo de mulas, based on an episode from Don Quixote, are evocative: the Preludio with lush string writing that might have been stemmed from the pen of Korngold but less melodically distinctive. Like the middle movements of the symphony, it is quite restrained; the Danza popular mostly lively with some mischievous solo trumpeting. There are even echoes of Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

Evocaciones is also rooted in folk-music. It starts unobtrusively and then gradually builds to a climax with full orchestra – then it fades away. Marcha para soldados de plomo is a piano piece which José intended to orchestrate but he only left some sketches. It was Alejandro Yagüe who completed it in 1988. This is its first recording. It’s a short, mechanical piece, quite picturesque.

The Suite ingenua for piano and strings is in three short movements, the first of which could have been inspired by Sibelius’s writing for strings. The piano part is quite simple. The second movement is more or less string music accompanied by the piano, melancholy but expanding to a fine climax. The last movement, a danza again, is short and concise, barely more than two minutes. Like the first movement it is rather simple and unassuming but attractive.

Alejandro Posada’s conducting is beyond reproach and the recording is well balanced. Alberto Rosado plays the piano part in the suite with suitable simplicity and adventurous listeners who feel tempted by the thought of hearing some Spanish Debussy should give the disc a try. Enrique Martínez Miura’s liner notes are excellent.

Göran Forsling

see also Reviews by Rob Barnett and Brian Burtt





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