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  Founder: Len Mullenger
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Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Concierto para una fiesta (1982) [29.03]
Concierto Madrigal (1966) [32.34]
Ricardo Gallén, Joaquín Clerch – guitars
Asturias Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maximiano Valdés
rec 2-4 October 2001, Auditorio Principe Felipe, Oviedo, Asturias DDD
Complete Orchestral Works Vol. 5
NAXOS 8.555842 [61.38]

As a one-work composer it is surprising to find that Rodrigo never thought he had exhausted the possibilities offered by the combination of guitar and orchestra. Although purely classical in form and sound the Concierto para una fiesta was written as recently as 1982. This brief lifespan may in part account for its obscurity. It was composed (as the name suggests) for a party; in fact it was commissioned by wealthy Texan parents for performance at a party for their debutante daughters. This rather nauseating provenance may have had an impact on Rodrigo too – even the booklet notes for this recording say "this is not his finest work." Nonetheless, there is much in this piece that is attractive and certainly worth hearing. The other drawback that it is always going to face, being in classical three-movement form and composed for just one guitar and small orchestra, is comparison with the work. Indeed, the slow movement has several similarities to that of the Concierto de Aranjuez, not least the languorous cor anglais solo at the opening. The balance between orchestra and guitar is well maintained, the work is made of thin polyphonic lines and unaccompanied solo passages for the guitar. There is breadth and a certain spaciousness in the timbres and, while not of the calibre of the work, this is an interesting late composition from one of the twentieth centuries more conservative but still underrated and individual masters.

The Concierto Madrigal is a different kettle of fish. One of Rodrigo’s best known works this long suite-like work for two guitars and orchestra is a masterpiece in every respect. Its ten movements cover a gamut of emotions and yet the form is tightly unified by the constant presence of the renaissance madrigal O felici occhi miei (O happy eyes of mine). As with his Fantasía para un gentilhombre (based on music by Fernando Sor) Rodrigo had a knack for finding just the right early music to resonate with his more romantic treatments. The Concierto Madrigal achieves this resonance with sparkle and flair and the presence of two guitars sets up some deliciously plangent textures both within the pairing and between the guitars and the orchestra. It is all great fun and very beautiful.

Although the Concierto para una fiesta is somewhat less than a masterpiece, it makes a good pairing with the Concierto Madrigal as the disc would be worth buying for the latter work alone and the Concierto para una fiesta is at least diverting and unknown to most listeners. The soloist, Ricardo Gallén, is young and technically brilliant. There is none of that unpleasant fingerboard sliding that is apparent on too many guitar recordings. Of course, it is always difficult to record such a soft instrument in conjunction with orchestra and this often leads to mics being placed very close to the guitar. Naxos’ engineers have fortuitously avoided that particular pitfall here and yet the recording balance keeps the guitar presence clear, although the overall balance is probably more like one would expect live than on a recording. This writer prefers the naturalistic balance as it does eliminate the sounds of technique that close mic placing reveals. The Concierto Madrigal has fewer such problems with two guitars producing enough volume to avoid easy swamping by the orchestra. That having been said, this is also due to the way in which Maximiano Valdés handles his forces of the Asturias Symphony Orchestra. This band is one of the more obscure regional orchestras of Spain but shows itself as a distinguished group, particularly given some very fine wind soloists. At the budget price of Naxos discs this sort of attractive repertoire, in technically assured, musical and well-recorded performances such as this, can only be recommendable. It is a very enjoyable and atmospheric disc.

Peter Wells

see also review by Rob Barnett

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