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Joaquín RODRIGO (1901 – 1999)
Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra (1939) [20:42] (Angel Romero);
Concierto Andaluz for Four Guitars and Orchestra (1967) [25:00] (The Romeros);
Antonio VIVALDI (1678 – 1741)

Concerto in B Minor for Four Guitars and Orchestra (Transcribed from the Concerto for Four Violins and Orchestra, Op 3, No 10 (from "L’Estro Armonico") [9:27] (The Romeros);
Concerto in C for Guitar and Orchestra (Transcribed from the Concerto in C for Mandolin and Orchestra [9:50] (Celedonio Romero);
Concerto in G for Two Guitars and Orchestra (Transcribed from the Concerto in G for Two Mandolins and Orchestra) [10:57] (Pepe and Celin Romero).
The Romeros (Celedonio, Celin, Pepe and Angel) guitars
San Antonio Symphony Orchestra/Victor Alessandro
Recorded in Municipal Auditorium, San Antonio, Texas, November 1967
SACD playable on all CD players
MERCURY 475 6184 MSA [76:47]

 

The selling point here is of course the Aranjuez Concerto, which probably is the most played and most recorded of all 20th century concertos. It was written just before the outbreak of World War II, and an interesting fact is that the guitar player who dominated the greater part of the last century and who even can be held responsible for the revival of the guitar as an instrument for serious music making, Andrés Segovia, never played it. Obviously he objected to Rodrigo dedicating the work to another player. It is a fine composition and the beautiful Adagio movement must be known to most music lovers and to many other. It has also appeared in a lot of different arrangements; most famous of them all the Gil Evans – Miles Davis version on the early 1960s album "Sketches of Spain". That’s where I first learnt this music. I had a student friend who also was an amateur painter – very good indeed – and he used to put this particular tune on the turntable while painting. I can still see the painting he worked on for weeks: a white landscape in the foreground, separated from a similarly white sky by a thin horizon, but that horizon grew thicker the further to the right you looked, and there, in that thickness, he worked hour after hour, inspired by Rodrigo’s music, with different colours. It was all very fascinating and I think I heard that particular track of the already worn record literally hundreds of times. When I finally bought a CD with "Sketches of Spain" it meant a return to these hours of painting. A reunion with a very good friend.

There are other versions. Rodrigo himself, as late as 1986, turned it into a lovely song, with lyrics, in French, by his wife Victoria Kamhi. It is entitled Aranjuez, ma pensée, and I heard it quite recently, sung by a young and very promising Swedish dramatic soprano, Ulla Westlund, who is auditioning for Covent Garden this autumn (2004).

I have long treasured a CBS LP from 1974 with John Williams and English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim. I listened to it again before delving into this Mercury disc. Of course there are differences, but not very important. Williams – Barenboim are a little slower in all the movements. In the Adagio that creates a more dreamlike atmosphere, but I am not sure it’s the tempo differences that matter most; the whole sound picture is softer, the cor anglais, presenting the celebrated melody, is more withdrawn, superbly played by James Brown. The unnamed player on the Mercury disc is also very good. The ECO strings are more sophisticated, more silken in tone, than the San Antonio group, which sounds bigger – and maybe more Spanish. After all San Antonio is not that far from the Mexican border and the orchestra may include some Spanish-speaking members, if that is of any importance. The guitarists are both world class, both play the Adagio in an improvisatory way that is very appealing. Both performances are excellent. The old Williams LP has on the reverse-side the Villa-Lobos Concerto, which also is a masterpiece. But The Romeros have another trump card: another work by Rodrigo, and, besides that a world premiere recording.

In 1967 Celedonio Romero, the father, asked Rodrigo for a concerto for himself and his three sons. The result was this Concierto Andaluz, which was first performed by the Romeros and the San Antonio Symphony in November of that year and subsequently recorded. In the booklet the composer himself describes the music. It was inspired by Andalusian music, but contains no authentic folk melodies. It is written in a popular vein, partly very colourful, partly aiming at displaying the brilliance of the soloists. The first movement, Tiempo de Bolero, is definitely captivating, and there is a catchy tune in the strings that I had to play all over again, one that was singing in my head even after going to bed; just like a really good pop-tune. But after a while the movement idles – it feels over-long, but that bolero-rhythm saves the day. The Adagio isn’t very memorable; a cute theme in the strings appears halfway through the movement and returns near the end; and the Allegretto is lively – of course, it is an allegretto. Then there is a mischievous trumpeter elbowing his way out of the orchestral texture now and again. That’s great fun. And of course the solo playing is excellent. But this concerto isn’t in the same league as the Aranjuez. Still it is good to have heard it and the Bolero is something I will return to, and play to my friends.

There is quite a substantial "filler": 30 minutes of Vivaldi. Of course Vivaldi never wrote a guitar concerto, but through the centuries many of "the Red Priest’s" 450-odd concertos have been subjected to arrangements and transcriptions by great and less great colleagues (J.S. Bach being one of the first). Here we find two works, originally written with the mandolin in mind, and the well-known concerto for four violins (from "L’Estro Armonico"). None of them really turned me on. The solo playing is beyond reproach but the orchestra feels a bit heavy-footed.

Technically this is an SACD three-channel disc, originally recorded in that format back in the 1960s, but never before released in that shape. I have only been able to listen on my old two-channel equipment, but it sounds good even there. The sound picture is clean and analytical without highlighting the individual instruments unduly. I enjoyed listening to it, even with headphones, where the stereo spread can sometimes be too much of a good thing.

I may have sounded less than enthusiastic about this disc, but it is still a good one. The timing is generous; if it is the Aranjuez concerto you are after you can’t do much better in a crowded field than getting this one, and getting the Andaluz concerto on the same disc is no bad thing. The Bolero is exciting and you may well react more positively to the rest than I did.

Göran Forsling

 

See also review by Rob Barnett



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