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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Pablo SOROZÁBAL (1897-1988)
Euskalerria (1963 instr. 1978)
Suite Vasca Op. 5 (1923)
Maite, Eguzki Eder (1954 instr. 1978)
Gernika (1966 rev. 1976)
Dos apuntes vascos (1925)
Siete lieder (1929 instr. 1956)
Variaciones sinfónicas (1927)
Maite Arruabarrena (mezzo-soprano)
Bilbao Choral Society
Basque National Orchestra/Cristian Mandeal
Recorded in San Sebastian, June and September 2002
CLAVES CD 50-2205 [71.33]

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Claves has initiated a series of discs devoted to the Basque music tradition, of which this is the latest installment. Sorozábal was born in San Sebastián in 1897 where he studied violin and harmony. He was taken on by the Madrid Philharmonic as a violinist in 1919 but left the following year for post-War Leipzig where he studied counterpoint with Stephan Krehl and conducting with the venerable Hans Sitt (who had himself been a violinist of distinction). The first choral compositions soon followed and it was in Leipzig that Sorozábal first flourished as a composer. His big hit came back in Spain in 1931 with the operetta Katiuska and thenceforward his direction was set. Twenty-four operettas followed and some film music. Once having reached a position of eminence, and presumably a degree of financial security, he returned more and more to instrumental composition. If I knew his name at all it was from Zarzuela and the recordings here do show that whatever else he may have written his instrumental music retains a freshness and vocalized impress that was indissolubly part of his musical style. He wrote with genuine lyricism but also lightly. Even in a piece such as Gernika (Guernica to non-Basques) his setting, albeit one written much later than the tragedy (unlike say Lidice or the Leningrad Symphony, to take the two most obvious examples) evokes little visceral feeling.

The works here divide nicely between accompanied choral, lieder and orchestral. As can be seen from the head-note a number were expanded for choir and orchestra many years after their first incarnation. All are tuneful, and well scored, idiomatically written, especially for choral or solo voices. Euskalerria was a hit song for the composer and this is a choral variant with Basque lyrics – a popular, very late nineteenth century affair. The Suite Vasca was one of the products of his Leipzig sojourn and show that the characteristics that one finds in his later work were audible from the start: conventional harmony, breezily avuncular, a fine ear for choral writing, predilection for late nineteenth century development. It’s only in the final Witches’ Song that an element of individuality seeps out. It reminded me very slightly of Janáček’s Moravian folk settings. Gernika, referred to above, was written in Madrid in 1966 but this revision dates from a decade later. Claves tend authoritatively to print the revision date when the original would make the compositional process clearer. His original title was Gernika, Basque Funeral March. Guernica is very close to Bilbao, whose orchestra plays so adeptly on this disc. He dedicated the work to his mother. This revision has lyrics by poet Nemesio Etxaniz. Opening with funereal drum-taps but also a swirlingly, noble theme the work is as much affirmatory as pessimistic-tragic. The choral sopranos really have a big extension to make at the top of their compass and whilst there’s real strain there’s a sense of striving for freedom too. Again this is no Lidice, no Mahlerian death rattle. This is tragedy recollected with a degree of, if not recollection, at least distance. I actually prefer his writing for orchestra alone. The two Apuntes vascos are full of harp and shimmer - his impressionistic self. Unlike many of his compatriots he went to Germany not France but elements of French impressionism are certainly there in his orchestration. The Lieder are accompanied by orchestra in this version and sung with grandiloquent expressivity by Maite Arruabarrena. They were written in Leipzig in 1931 and are Basque translations of Heine. Nevertheless this is pretty light and snappy stuff, full of pleasant harmonies (nothing more) and Basque dance rhythms. I doubt Heine’s poetry has ever sounded so unadulteratedly happy. The Variaciones sinfónicas again is a Leipzig work of 1927. He apparently considered it the equivalent of a symphony. It’s an attractive suite that occasionally strikes a deeper note. He cultivates somewhat antique sonorities, has a balletic ear in the second variation in Zortzico rhythm but mines unusual depth in the Andante lamentabile variation that goes beyond the merely conventional. The work’s heart this Andante has a mini-Brucknerian amplitude – a melody escaping over heartbeat pizzicati, full of nightmare as well. There are piquancies in the sixth, Andantino, variation – about as modernistically spiced as Sorozábal gets here. The final variation, a long multi-partite one, is tuneful and dance like, though hinting at some hieratic grandeur, vocalized, Iberian certainly, with an admixture of baroque lyricism.

The performers acquit themselves well. The recording is good but not outstanding. There’s a lack of bloom especially in the choral pieces that rather hardens the sound. No masterpieces here – but an intriguing avenue to explore.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Chris Howell



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