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Carlos SURINACH (1915-1997)
Melorhythmic Dramas (1966) [21:54]
Symphonic Variations (1962) [15:58]
Feria Magica Overture (1956) [5:12]
Sinfonietta Flamenca (1950) [12:41]
Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney, Jorge Mester
rec. Louisville, 1954, 1956, 1965, 1967. ADD

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This is an extremely attractive release presenting what I understand is the only Surinach orchestral anthology. It is not specially generous in terms of sheer playing minutes but in artistic terms it presents some fascinating music that engages at many levels.

Surinach was born in Barcelona and his early studies took place there. He polished his art in Berlin, Dusseldorf and Köln. In 1944 he left Berlin for his home city and there conducted the Orquesta Filarmonica. He moved on to Paris in 1947 and a couple of years later to the USA and a sequence of academic posts. While there he recorded a series of 20th century works for MGM - would that his Hovhaness St Vartan Symphony recording, amongst many others, would be reissued.

The works included here are made up of short movements and concentrated ideas. The invention has a starkness about it rather suggestive of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex and of the terser statuesque writing  of Prokofiev.

It is intriguing to encounter Surinach's intercession between typically Iberian and Flamenco material and dissonant modernity. The natural attraction of the Spanish gestures and themes leans back towards the lambent lines and rhythmic punch of de Falla and Ravel blended with the coarse cross-grain pungency of Stravinsky. For illustration try the coruscating  brilliance of the Melorhythmic Dramas which tip into the mix every distinctive Iberian element and allow it to radiate through pattering percussion (tr. 5), grim brass and explosive percussion (tr. 6). For a work written in 1966, the Melorhythmic Dramas has great attractions without being a bland sell-out to the expected peninsular manner. The Dramas end in an almost apocalyptic thundering triumph.

The Melorhythmic Dramas are in seven movements, each separately banded. A similar generosity of tracking applies to the 1962 Symphonic Variations across eleven variations. An exuberant and boisterous grunted-out rhythmic attack has a red-hot merciless high violin line coursing high above. The solo trumpet - part Hovhaness, part high sierras - rings out offset by the song of gleamingly aggressive percussion. Percussion instruments are very important in these Surinach scores. The torero arrogance of the sixth variation contrasts with the seventh where the unremitting Stravinskian rhythm suggests ruthlessness. The recording is absolutely outstanding.

The little Feria Magica overture was mastered from an original LP. If you listen carefully you can here the 'presence ' of the vinyl track and the small rustling tick.  However a lovely job has been made of this modern Espaņa of a piece - a sort of Khachaturian and de Falla on speed. Rather like the William Mathias Dance Overture this would make a stunning concert opener anywhere and anytime. Tired of Donna Diana, Colas Breugnon, Festive Overture or Espaņa then look no further and give Surinach a chance. You will not be sorry. This has scrubbed up very well in sound terms.

Finally and from two years before the sessions for the overture we come to the superb Sinfonietta Flamenca. It is in four flamenco-suffused movements spanning stomping ecstatic exuberance, cool dripping nocturnal gardens, rattlingly explosive rhythmic triumphalism and percussion-goaded dance. Whitney superbly captures the feral wildness of Flamenco the essence of which Surinach was surely intending to capture and render. The piece ends in a surprisingly modest gesture snatched from the violence of the dance. 

This fine disc is further enhanced by Carlos Surinach's own notes for each piece.

All save the Melorhythmic Dramas are conducted by Robert Whitney.

These four works were recorded over the period 1954-1967.

Howard Scott presided over all of the recordings and turns in some extremely attractive and even gripping sounds. The original analogue tapes have been very sympathetically transferred.

Rob Barnett


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