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Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Palillos y panderetes (1982);
Dos Danzas españolas (1966);
Per la flor del Iliri blau (1934);
Tres viejos aires de danza (1926);
A la busca del mas alla (1976)
Lucera Tena (castanets)
Castile and Leon Symphony Orchestra/Max Bragado Darman
Rec. Teatro Carrion, Valladolid, 1991; Nov 2000
NAXOS 8.555962 [68.52]

As can be seen from the recording dates some of this music was apparently put ‘in the can’ as long ago as 1990 … quite extraordinary. Naxos’s Spanish Classics series must therefore have been ‘in the air’ for some time. Of course in 1990 Rodrigo was alive, so I wonder if he heard some of these works, or attended the recording sessions or approved. We are not told. But I see no reason why he shouldn’t have done. These are mostly fine recordings and excellent performances. Quite a few of them are in a nationalistic light music category but two are profound and rare works of much interest.

Like his compatriots, Jesus Guridi (1886-1961), Jesus Arambarri (1902-1960), Rodrigo studied in Paris with Paul Dukas. Joaquin Turina (1882-1949) was another who came under the all-pervasive French influence of the 1920s and 1930s. All of them were encouraged to write symphonic poems as Dukas and d’Indy had and were doing. These pieces, difficult to programme today, have mostly passed out of the repertoire. They between seven and twenty minutes and take a nationalistic or parochial stance, often with more meaning for the local cognoscenti than for Europe. Although Rodrigo is practically a household name none of these works are at all well known, outside Spain or even much in Spain.

The ‘Dos danzas espanolas’ is almost a castanet concerto, so prominent is this typically Iberian instrument. At just over nine minutes it is about as much as one can cope with … but good fun. The ‘Tres viejos aires de danza’ is neo-classical especially the delightful, if very lightweight Minuet. The Giga brings to the short work a much-needed lively ending. ‘Palillos y panderetas’ translates as ‘castanets and tambourines’. It opens the CD. Contrary to its title it does not particularly feature these two instruments. It is a brief and colourful three-movement suite and includes a delightful ‘Pastoral’ over an ostinato rhythm. It was commissioned by the mayor of Madrid and ended up being the composer’s last orchestral work.

The two longest works are the most serious and to me at least, present a side of the composer, which I had never suspected.

‘Per la flor del Iliri blau’ translated in the CD booklet as ‘For the flower of the blue lily’ is the only piece of the disc which has a less than top standard recording. The climaxes are quite boxy and constricted. At twenty minutes duration however it deserves your attention. The story is from Valencian Legend in which three sons of a dying king go in search of a blue lily whose magic powers could save their father. The outcome is successful but tragic, ideally captured by the composer. It dates from 1934. Over forty years later the blind composer, now well into his 70s, was still prepared to find inspiration in the extra-musical. This much is evident from his Houston commission ‘A la busca del mas allai’ (In search of way lies beyond). There is no trace of ‘Spanishry’ here but a work of totally international appeal. It opens with a rising drum roll and a questioning tri-tone. It is almost keyless at times. These two works are coupled on another disc incidentally conducted by Batiz (EMI 767435-2), which I have not heard and cannot comment on.

The CD booklet notes written by Enrique Martinez Miura are quite good on Rodrigo’s biography, which is not entirely necessary, but disappointing on the music. This is a pity as these pieces are so little known. As is now increasingly common there are extensive notes on the performers … even the solo castanets player, the indomitable Lucero Tena. The Castile and Leon orchestra under Spanish maestro Max Bragado Darman (he it is who at the time of recording was the artistic director of this newly founded orchestra) are in fine form.

Gary Higginson

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