This collection was gathered and brought to completion
by EMI Classics in 1992 to mark (one year late) the composer's
It has been in the catalogue for many years and
looks likely to be a staple of the EMI Classics marque. Although
Philips, DG and RCA-BMG have dabbled in Rodrigo it has usually
been to light on one or other of the four deservedly popular guitar
works (Aranjuez, Madrigal, Andaluz or Gentilhombre).
If we confined ourselves to the Aranjuez there would hardly
be a single major label that has not wanted to have the work in
their catalogue. It is a work that caught the public imagination
with its elegance, passion and sense of exotic place. Recently
Naxos have launched and fulfilled a complete Rodrigo Edition of
their own and this four disc set comes into direct competition
with that series of six volumes.
The four discs in this collection are tightly
packed and excellent value. If you are already won over perhaps
by the Aranjuez concerto and want to have a large amount
of Rodrigo in one fell swoop then this is the set for you.
The Concierto Serenata (harp) is
delicacy itself; warm, pointedly articulated classically poised
and smiling. Nancy Allen keeps things moving along and in the
finale Batiz and his orchestra add some captivatingly long melodic
lines (typical of the mid movement of the Aranjuez) without
which the concerto might have rather sped by leaving little trace
James Galway was the dedicatee of the 1978 perky
and chipper Concierto Pastoral - very much in keeping
with Galway's character in the two outer movements and peaceful
and contented in somnolent adagio. The orchestra is a small
one with one part each for oboe clarinet, trumpet (who struggles
a little in the finale in this version) and horn and strings.
A complete change of gear comes with the Heroico
written in a pre-Aranjuez style reminiscent of Ravel, the
baroque and even Arthur Bliss's Piano Concerto of 1939 with which
this version is contemporaneous. It has a quizzical and confidently
striding approach which in the largo moves into ensemble
brass writing catching echoes of the Gabrielis.
The Madrigal is a concerto in ten
small panels. It is securely done here and most exactingly recorded.
The ppp busy guitar figuration in the arieta is
most lovingly rendered and not lost in the high pressure violin
line. There are moments too in this piece where Rodrigo looks
towards Stravinsky of Dumbarton Oaks and Pulcinella.
The Estio (Summer) Concerto stands on the
other side of the divide that separates this concerto from the
Heroico. It speaks of a surprisingly peaceable kingdom
given the world and domestic events that hem it in. It flashes
brilliantly along with never a dissonance in earshot. A simmering
warmth laps the listeners ears in the central Sicilienne.
This is an idyllic concerto rather than a grand romantic statement
- pictorial rather than dramatic. The solo line in the finale
squeaks and hiccups along with more than a humorous hint of Khachaturian
and Kabalevsky and a notable Iberian flavour. Disc 2 ends with
Rodrigo's curse and blessing - his claim to hotel lobby, lift
and mall fame: the Concierto de Aranjuez. What has
elevated it to fame? Its rhythmic interest is intriguingly detailed,
its melodies are of resounding quality, for a guitar concerto
the writing for orchestra is lively and bejewelled not the thin
upholstery it might have been in other hands. In addition the
melody in the adagio is invincibly memorable. The only
serious criticism is the expressive vibrato laid on in the adagio
with a large paintbrush by the cor anglais player of the LSO.
For me it is just too much though the only slight blemish in an
otherwise fine version.
The Fantasia for much of its 22
minutes explores the baroque pastichery of Walton's antique sketches
from Henry V. The ideas are drawn from the music of Gaspar
Sanz. Unlike the Andaluz I have always thought this piece, for
all its charm, would never have had so many recordings but for
the towering success of Aranjuez with which it was often
coupled. Speaking of the Andaluz this is a lovely
work which manages to keep Rodrigo's tendency for museum dust
at bay. It is only the extravagant requirement of four guitarists
that keeps this piece out of the concert hall and recording studio.
This is a fine performance - perhaps rather quick by comparison
with the original recording by the Romero family (Victor Alessandro
conducted the San Antonio orchestra) for whom it was written.
I think that performance can still be heard on Mercury
(I first had this in a Philips LP box 6747 430 back
in 1976). It is well worth getting.
I well remember back in 1981 hearing the Concierto
en Modo Galante in a friend's dub of the burly but rather
four-square Louisville Edition LP recording. As ever with Rodrigo
(except perhaps when he is too busy with the pastiche antiquery)
the rhythmic interest is strong if mechanically insistent. The
singing cello of Robert Cohen relieves the unyielding motor patterns.
And singing is what distinguishes the tender and lovely adagietto
- another top drawer melody. The finale nods too closely and indulgently
towards the allegro gentile finale of Aranjuez. The
collection of concertos here is incomplete. If you want a comprehensive
survey you are going to have to track down Julian Lloyd Webber's
birthday tribute album of last year which includes a concerto
which I presume is contractually his exclusive property - the
Concierto como un Divertimento on BMG-RCA 74321 84112 2.
The first three of the four discs in this set
pack together all the contractually available concertos. The final
disc introduces us to a completely unfamiliar Rodrigo: the orchestral
tone poet. Two symphonic poems contrast with four pieces each
in the nature of a suite or panel of descriptive sketches. The
first poem is the 1934 For the Flower of the Blue Lily (Per
la flor del lliri blau). It is based on a Valencian poem
'reflecting the mourning of all Nature for the death of a Young
Prince'. It is a lovely piece with more dramatic vigour than many
Rodrigo items - more surge and searing turbulence. Its style is
romantic rather like a dramatic poem combining Ravel (Pavane)
and Tchaikovsky (Fifth Symphony) with pre-echoes of the adagio
from Aranjuez. From 1976, 42 years later Rodrigo takes
on visionary robes for A la busca del más allá
(In search of the beyond). This is a subject
worthy of Scriabin but Rodrigo explores it in language of diaphanous
transparency where Ravel is the model and where throbbingly ecstatic
climaxes such as that at 3.30 have the composer stretching towards
the light - perhaps the same light which Howells captures in Hymnus
Paradisi - ‘glory is the true light and passing wonderful’.
There is a suggestion of children's playsongs in the quietly chiming
epilogue of the piece although the awed gong stroke finally leaves
the listener wondering if he has strayed into a forbidden sanctum.
The Musica para un jardin is from
1957 and is engagingly dissonant for Rodrigo - a road he did not
go down but which makes for provocative listening. There is some
scathingly Stravinskian writing in the Cinco Piezas infantiles
as well as tenderness and muscular celebration. The Zarabanda
was written in 1926 in homage to the vihuelist Luis Milán.
Antonio Soler was a Catalonian contemporary of Domenico Scarlatti
and is presumably reflected in the athletic Pulcinellan
antics of Soleriana. Intriguing to notice how frequently
Rodrigo's works link back to the past - Milan, Soler, Sanz and
The Naxos series offers you the luxury of picking
and choosing and is unlikely to disappoint. However if you want
an inexpensive Rodrigo splurge then this 4CD set is a pleasing
library choice in refined EMI sound (sample the Adagietto
of the Galante CD3 tr. 10).
If you are looking for a more full blooded and
upfront approach to the guitar concertos then the version on Hänssler
is worth finding. It has Aranjuez, Madrigal and
Andaluz in recordings that have gallons of brightly lit
immediacy and little refinement. If you find the Romero-Mercury
versions of the guitar concertos then don't hold back. To complete
the picture you need the RCA-BMG recording of the Lloyd Webber
Concierto in modo Divertimento.
EMI Classics’ Rodrigo Edition is packed with
delights and surprises. The delights are the Serenata,
the Andaluz and the Aranjuez. The surprises, and
they are agreeable, include the lovely Concierto en modo Galante
and the A las busca del más allá which
after Aranjuez might just be Rodrigo's finest work. If it sounds
appealing do get it before it disappears under the deleter's remorseless