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Ruperto CHAPÍ (1851-1909) 
Fantasía Morisca (1873 rev. 1879) [22:18] 
Symphony in D minor (1877 rev. 1879) [34:29]
Orquesta de la Communidad de Madrid/José Ramón Encinar
rec. rehearsal hall, Orchestra and Chorus of the Communidad de Madrid, Teatro Isabel Clara Eugenia, Spain, 25-29 June and 15-17 October 2007
NAXOS 8.572195 [56:49] 
Experience Classicsonline

Before I heard this disc I had thought of Chapí only as one of the best composers of zarzuelas. Indeed that is how he was best known in his lifetime although he also had some prominence as a fighter for improved performing rights for composers.  Naxos have two short excerpts from his zarzuelas on 8.555957 – the Prelude to “El tamor de granaderos” and the chorus of doctors from “El rey que rabió”.  They are the highlights of that disc and whet the appetite for more by this composer.  He did indeed also write several operas, some chamber music and a small amount of orchestral music.

The Symphony is the longer work here, and is full of delights even if perhaps somewhat overlong for the material.  The first movement, with its slow introduction, and the third movement scherzo are the most indebted to classical models of the first part of the nineteenth century.  The lengthy slow second movement and the more boisterous finale are still very much influenced in the same way but are as much character pieces as symphonic movements.  As a whole however this is an enjoyable work and well worth hearing. 

The same applies even more strongly to the Fantasía morisca which was originally conceived for military band – at the time he was director of the artillery regimental band in Madrid.  Its four movements are picturesque and imaginative.  Whilst it has a character similar to the Spanish-inspired works of, say, Bizet, Massenet and Chabrier, the Spanish-sounding melodies and textures here are presumably closer to the real thing than the former.  It is clearly a lighter work than the Symphony, but if the latter is worth hearing once in a while, the Fantasia surely deserves a permanent place in the normal orchestral repertoire alongside the Spanish-inspired French Suites of the same period. 

The performances sound idiomatic - I have not been able to obtain scores - and the recording is clear if somewhat dry and unatmospheric.  I understand that Chapí wrote other orchestral music, including a much later tone poem “Los gnomos de la Alhambra” (The gnomes of the Alhambra), described by Christopher Webber in his book on zarzuelaas “strikingly adventurous”.  It is a pity that it is not included here, but perhaps it might form the basis for a second disc of Chapí’s music.  In the meantime, here is a very enjoyable but inexpensive disc of two very worthwhile pieces by a composer who clearly ought to be better known beyond his own country.

John Sheppard

see also Review of an alternative version of the Symphony


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