It has often been said
that the best Spanish music has been
written by non-Spanish composers, music
that is quintessentially Spanish in
feeling, temperament and sheer exuberance.
It makes one wonder if those who agree
with this sentiment have ever heard
Granados, De Falla or Albeniz let alone
Rodrigo. After all what could bring
the sights, sounds and colours of Spain
to mind more readily than the famous
Concierto de Aranjuez? It’s all the
more amazing then that Rodrigo began
to lose his sight after the age of 4,
following an outbreak of diphtheria.
Within a few years he was totally blind,
yet those precise elements that go towards
making a Spanish composer write music
that is probably more easily identifiable
with a country than any other in Europe,
were elements that Rodrigo absorbed
like blotting paper despite being able
to see nothing of what we see that makes
Spain so unique.
This disc from Naxos,
part 8 in their laudable series of the
complete orchestral works of this wonderful
composer, comprises four works, the
first of which is "Concierto pastoral",
written in 1978 for flautist James Galway.
It is a work typical of Rodrigo’s writing,
combining as it does the imposition
of fearsome technical difficulties on
the part of the soloist with tunes that
are musically descriptive of a given
region – Valencia in this case, in the
second theme of the first movement.
This concerto has proved perennially
popular with audiences and soloists
alike, drawing the greatest flute virtuosi
to take on the challenge of the exceptional
demands Rodrigo places upon them.
andaluzas" for string orchestra,
was composed in 1929, yet inexplicably
they had to wait until 1999, the year
of Rodrigo’s death for their premiere!
The phrase "short and sweet"
came to mind as I listened to these
two pieces that last a mere 5 minutes,
the second of which includes a theme
he used later in the "Concierto
The "Adagio for
wind instruments" of 1966 is another
gem, in which the fact that no strings
are involved goes unnoticed , so skilful
is Rodrigo’s writing for winds.
The disc finishes with
James Galway’s repaying of Rodrigo’s
tribute to him with his arrangements
of Rodrigo’s guitar concerto "Fantasia
para un Gentilhombre", written
for Segovia in 1978. Rodrigo readily
agreed with Galway making his arrangement
though he made sure he paid attention
to what Galway had done with it and
made pertinent suggestions where he
felt it would be helpful. It certainly
works equally well with the flute as
soloist. I think that speaks volumes
for Rodrigo’s compositional skills.
I own versions of the "Concierto
de Aranjuez" for harp as well as
guitar and also Miles Davis’ version
from his classic album "Sketches
of Spain" and each of them could
have been written for any of those instruments.
Joanna G’froerer, a Canadian who became
principal flautist of the National Arts
Centre of Canada when only 20, is an
exceptionally gifted player who makes
the most of the opportunity to give
Rodrigo’s music for flute a thoroughly
musical interpretation. This is a delightful
disc that will repay repeated listening.
review by Jonathan Woolf