Much of Arambarri's slender reputation rests on his life as a conductor. Indeed after 1938 his direction of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra strangled off his activities as a composer. As a conductor he recorded a selection of the music of his teacher, Jesus Guridi. These analogue tapes have been kept safe in the EMI Classics International catalogue and sound well - vivid if a shade fierce. Apart from Guridi he also studied with Dukas and Le Flem in Paris. His conducting mentors were Vladimir Golschmann and Felix Weingartner - both in Switzerland.
The Orchestral Prelude carries the same inflections as Britten's and Berkeley's Mont-Juic dances from 1938. It is based on three Basque folk songs. The music dances like that of Arambarri's Portuguese brother Freitas Branco but raked with the raucously salty breeze of Pulcinella. There is some lovely, lightly skipping, pizzicato playing along the way.
Whenever you see the name Maria Bayo you know that you are in for a treat. Her way with the Eight Basque Songs is cool, poetic, virginal, knowing and kindly. The relationship with Canteloube's Auvergnat Songs and even with the sort of unaffected joy and enchantment achieved by Netania Davrath in the Auvergne songs is clear. This is most notable in the lullaby of Anderegeya and in Atea Tan Tan (tr 4) and Ainhoarra (tr 7). If you appreciate the orchestral versions of de Falla's Siete Canciones Españolas or Montsalvatge's Canciones Negra you will warm immediately to the radiant quiet tension of these songs. This shines through whether in quiet dance or in sharp or suggestive evocation of pristine Pyrenean mornings and of oceans of mist swirling around the high peaks.
In Memoriam was written in memory of Juan Carlos Gortázar. The music represents a meditative quickening with sudden, though low-contoured, surges. There is an orator's role for the French horn intoning the Dies Irae. A transient fist-shaking dies away, wonderfully peaceful, over prayerful strings redolent of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique.
The ballet Aiko-Mako is in three large continuous sections or Cuadros. These run for 20.46, 11.00, 16.53. The music bristles and ripples with colour. There is grateful music for the woodwind. The reference is the music of de Falla (especially the music for The Three Cornered Hat). Ravelian influences are also plain. The music takes in many moods and scenes including dignified and cool lament (Cuadro II), village festivities and peppery dance rhythms of the sort we know from the Portuguese Alentejo courtesy of Luis de Freitas and Joly Braga Santos. This would have shone under Ataulfo Argenta. Christian Mandeal does not project quite the same level of intoxication.
Arambarri has the charm and freshness of Guridi and Canteloube even if the ballet is over-extended in relation to its material. Worth hearing.
Another revealing and superbly packaged Basque instalment courtesy of those Swiss guardian angels, Claves.