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SOUNDS OF THE BASQUE COUNTRY
Jesús GURIDI (1886-1961)
Diez melodía vascas (1941) (1) [ca.21.30]
José María USANDIZAGA (1887-1915)
Fantasía para Violoncello y Orquesta (1908) (2) [13.59]
Jesús ARÁMBARRI (1902-1960)
Ocho Canciones populares vascas para soprano y orquesta (1931) (3) [ca.12.25]
Andres ISASI (1890-1940)
Berceuse trágica para violin y orquesta, Op. 22, No. 1 (1914) (4) [8.43]
Francisco ESCUDERO (b.1912)
El sueño de un Bailarín (5) [12.29]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Alborada del Gracioso (1918) (6) [6.57]
Asier Polo (cello) (2)
Maria Bayo (soprano) (3)
Jonathan Carney (violin) (4)
Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa (Basque National Orchestra), conducted by:
Miguel A. Gómez Martínez (1)
Gabriel Chmura (2)
Cristian Mandeal (3)
Enrique García Asensio (4)
Arturo Tamayo (5)
Gilbert Varga (6)
Recorded in various sessions in San Sebastian between 1997 and 2001. Previously released on separate Claves Records discs in the Basque Music Collection.
CLAVES CD50-2201 [75.56]
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"A Basque History of the World", the spine of a book in a local bookstore recently announced to me – reminding me of the supreme self-confidence of another book redolent of the nationalist fervour of smaller ethnic groups, "How the Irish Saved Civilisation". I recalled the former title when opening this disc for review. Released to celebrate the twentieth anniversary in 2002 of the Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa, or Basque National Symphony Orchestra, it features music by Basque composers of whom practically nothing is known today outside the region. The exception to this is Maurice Ravel, to whom the Basques lay claim by virtue of his mother’s birth and his ability to speak the language. It is an immensely intriguing and satisfying disc that will handsomely reward repeated playing.
I can find out little quickly about Guridi other than
his dates, but his Diez melodías vascas (Ten Basque Melodies)
are finely constructed and very appealing miniatures. The longest is only
four minutes in length, but leaves a sparkling taste behind, and a thirst
for more. In places they are reminiscent of Hollywood at its musical height
– there are moments (Narrativa) when the listener is transported to the
world of Korngold’s Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, for example,
others (Religiosa) when the mental image is a collage of every cathedral
in every Bette Davis movie and yet others (Danza and Festiva) when Malcolm
Arnold’s dance suites spring to mind. More of this composer’s music is
called for – yet another research project!
Usandizaga’s music is obviously influenced by Vincent d’Indy’s Schola Cantorum, which he attended at age 14, but he is credited (along with Guridi) with laying the foundation for Basque art music. Much of his output incorporates Basque folk melodies and this can he heard in his ’cello fantasy. There are certainly shades of French composers in this piece – Chausson and Fauré come immediately to mind – but there is also something of the untrammelled passion of, say, Villa-Lobos. A very engaging piece that makes one want to investigate the theatre music for which this composer is apparently renowned in his own land.
Better known as a conductor and promoter of Spanish national music than a composer, Jesús Arámbarri y Gárate studied with Dukas and in Paris in the late 1920s. His reputation today rests on his having introduced the choral works of Britten, Vaughan Williams and Walton to the Spanish concert going audience, as well as his passion for Basque choral music. Most of his surviving work has a vocal component, and these eight miniatures provide an interesting sampling of his scoring ability. María Bayo offers a committed and knowledgeable performance, though the lack of text in the notes somewhat reduces one’s ability to appreciate the context of the songs.
Isasi, a musician of precocious gifts, was a favourite pupil of Humperdinck in Berlin and developed an enviable contrapuntal style that is well evidenced by this soulful and evocative piece. There are glimpses of Brahms, Strauss and Hindemith in this brief work, which is touchingly played by Jonathan Carney. The composer left behind two symphonies and at least five symphonic poems plus a Mass – all of these now figure on my huge list of Music to Find Somebody to Record. Isasi, I suspect, will repay further investigation by revealing gems similar to this wonderful Berceuse.
Escudero’s piece is altogether a different kettle of fish. Intensely atmospheric and much more ‘modern’ than anything else on the disc, this is a miniature that encompasses a wide variety of disparate material in a short space of time, yet offers a seemingly unified sound. Some influence of teachers Dukas and Wolff can be identified, but Escudero has certainly developed a uniquely individual voice. Interestingly, there is a discrepancy between the disc’s claim of 1912 for his birth date and his entry in the New Grove, which shows August 1913. Another enigma to be pursued!
The inclusion of a familiar Ravel to round out this disc of Basque music makes a rather fine point – that Basque influence in music stretches beyond the parochial and touches even the giants of the twentieth century. The orchestra offers a fine, spirited performance under Maestro Varga’s baton.
This is a tremendous compilation disc, offering stirring performances of rarely heard repertoire. It is the sort of release that forcibly reminds one there is so much more great music out there than that represented by the 200 or so composers in the so-called "core repertoire" – and long may Claves and others continue to rise to the challenge of recording it. But please, Claves, next time include some meaningful notes and texts to the songs – the notes that exist are in a laudable five languages, but actually say next to nothing about the composers or their music!
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