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Concertos from Spain
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860 - 1909)

Rapsodia española (arr. 1959 Cristóbal Halffter) (1887) [17.57]
Joaquín TURINA (1882 - 1949)

Rapsodia Sinfónica, Op 66 (1931) [8.56]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Recorded Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, UK, July 1983
Xavier MONTSALVATGE (1912 - 2002)

Concerto Breve for Piano and Orchestra (1953) [24.12]
Carlos SURINACH (1915 - 1997)

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1973) [24.17]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Recorded Kingsway Hall, London, UK, October 1976
Alicia de Larrocha, piano
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 2971 [75.35]

Purists will insist that the title of this disk should be "Concertos from Catalunya" since all the composers and the soloist are Catalonians; some see their country to be distinct from Spain. All the performances are exceptional, as is to be expected from these artists. I have recently been greatly moved by de Larrocha’s performances of Schubert, Liszt, Beethoven and Mendelssohn, as well as the Granados of whom her performances and scholarship set a world standard. The recording quality is among the finest I have ever heard in a CD release, comparing in range and impact to some SACDs.

The Turina and Albéniz are colorful works in the Spanish style easily accessible and thoroughly enjoyable on first hearing. Turina was one of the most "European" of the Spanish composers in his piano sonatas and chamber music but was still capable of brilliant idiomatic writing in the Spanish style, as here, with an underlying sonata-form logic.

I have an enormous regard for Surinach as a composer. He was born and educated in Barcelona, studied in Germany, and eventually emigrated to the U.S. His works Tientos, Cantos Berberes (3), and Ritmo Jondo* are timeless masterpieces in their style, and are among the works I listen to most frequently. His choral masterpiece Canciones de Alma was recently recorded on a Guild CD and is likely to join these earlier works in my personal stellar firmament. His skill as a conductor, developed over many years of conducting in Barcelona, Europe, and South America, was shown in the first recording, on the MGM label, of Hovhaness’s Symphony #9 "St. Vartan," still the best recording of the work ever made, sound as well as performance*. At my initial hearings of this Concerto, however, expecting something very good, I reacted very negatively to it. On subsequent hearings I have come to enjoy and admire it. He makes a number of very witty and affectionate statements regarding the work of Shostakovich whom he clearly admires greatly. As with much of his work, there is tremendous energy and brilliant color; but underneath is a sound musical structure which makes the surface flesh all the more attractive for the beautiful bone structure beneath.

Montsalvatge’s Concerto Breve is not all that brief. Perhaps the "breve" refers to the time signature, or perhaps we are dealing with a musical joke here, as when Schubert labeled some of his most carefully thought-out music "Impromptus."

In pronouncing Montsalvatge’s name, observe that the TG in the Catalan language is equivalent to the DG sound in the English word "judge." (I have to assume that Surinach is pronounced to rhyme with the English word "notch.") Montsalvatge was an icon of Catalan music, a friend of de Larrocha’s, and a beloved teacher. His music is difficult to approach, but is lately becoming better known and appreciated. He studied in Paris and was hostile to the German influence in music, preferring, like Villa-Lobos, to construct his music entirely of Latin stylistic elements. But he is more consistently elegant and more experimental than Villa-Lobos and has none of the rhythmic savagery of Surinach.

Montsalvatge’s music is rigorously crafted but in a free form with little of the recognizable formulas. Every aspect from harmony to texture to melody — or perhaps "linear motion" would be a better word — is under absolute control and the result is a brilliantly original sound design. No two of his works sound much alike. This is not twelve tone music, but it is not welcomingly tonal, either. While the intricate, exciting tone color will at once intrigue you, a deeper enjoyment will come only after a number of hearings, so be patient with this music and the rewards will be great.

This disk has a curious defect, one I’ve never before encountered. It plays fine in most of my players, but in my Emerson HD 7088 portable player, playback stops for a few seconds every few minutes, and sometimes one hears a minute or two of digital hash before playback resumes, always from exactly the place where it stopped, making attentive listening difficult with this player. If I turn off the automatic anti-skip feature, playback stops entirely. When I first attempted to read the cue sheet (the program on the CD which determines the order and length of the tracks and includes subcode information about copyrights and royalties) in my Windows 2000 computer, thinking there might be some irregularity there, this caused the computer to reboot. After all this, when I finally was able to extract it, the cue sheet proved to be strictly "Redbook," so the mystery persists. Perhaps, since this disk was made in Australia, I should have put it into the player upside down. More seriously we may be dealing with an unsuccessful experiment in compatible copy protection that no one will own up to. When you buy this disk, test it on every player you own before the dealer’s exchange period expires.

*I have restored these recording to brilliant 96/24 digital (monophonic) sound and am looking to find an historical cd label willing to release them commercially. My own label, Pasigram, can only deal with recordings fully in the public domain.

Paul Shoemaker

 

 



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