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manner it is quite immobile and dynamically withdrawn, though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.
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.
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.
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
see also Reviews by Rob
Barnett and Brian