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Jesús GURIDI (1886-1961)
Sinfonía pirenaica (1945)a [49:14]
Espatadantza (1920)b [3:28]
Bilbao Choral Societyb
Bilbao Symphony Orchestra/Juan José Menaa, Theo Alcántarab
Recorded: Euskalduna Concert Hall, Bilbao, February 2003 (Sinfonía) and Teatro Arriaga, Bilbao, June 1997 (Espatadantza)
NAXOS 8.557631 [52:42]

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With their special series, such as American Classics, Spanish Classics and 21st Century Classics, Naxos have made available at budget price a lot of worthwhile, little-known, often neglected or simply forgotten music. I have discovered much fine stuff in the Spanish Classics series, of which the present release is a recent instalment. It is actually the second Guridi disc in this series, the first one (8.557110) including the delightful Ten Basque Melodies and the beautiful Así cantan los chicos for treble voices and orchestra. The second volume consists mainly of one major work Sinfonía pirenaica (“Pyrenean Symphony”) completed in 1945. The fill-up has been taken from the complete recording of Guridi’s lyric drama Amaya released a few years ago (Marco Polo 8.225084/5), that I have not heard so far.

Sinfonía pirenaica is a substantial and fairly ambitious work in three large-scale movements. As implied by the title, the piece evokes the Pyrenean mountains, “the soul of the mountains and the dangers they represent”; but, let me tell you straightaway, this is no Basque Alpine Symphony. Neither may it be likened to d’Indy’s Symphonie Cévenole, although Guridi’s traditional, colourful music often has a ring of folk music, without quoting any Basque folk tune (or so I guess). The first movement is the longest, the weightiest and the most developed of the three, which does not mean that the other movements are lightweight or uninteresting; quite the contrary. The second movement, a rather long Scherzo, alternates dance-like, folk-inflected episodes and more lyrical ones sometimes redolent of plainchant (a small chapel or an oratory lost in the mountains?). The third movement, of heroic character, builds up to a noble and triumphant apotheosis. Am I alone in hearing faint echoes of Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony or Coastal Command here? The music’s evocative strength, as well as Guridi’s orchestral mastery, is quite clear throughout this often imposing piece. As already hinted at, Guridi’s idiom is fairly traditional, often folk-inflected, occasionally spiced by some mild dissonance and – more than once – colourfully impressionistic. This is essentially fairly impressive outdoor music. It evokes massive mountainous vistas and rugged landscapes, the play of light and shadow but with darker undertones. The music also powerfully conveys a strong feeling of elation. In this respect, Guridi’s symphony might well compare, albeit superficially, with Delius’ Song of the High Hills. In short, a serious, heartfelt and superbly crafted work that clearly deserves to be heard. 

As mentioned earlier, the disc is rounded-off with a short excerpt from Guridi’s lyric drama Amaya of 1920, probably the closest any Basque composer has ever come to writing a national opera. The short Sword Dance appropriately evokes Basque folk music with fife and drum, and has the chorus joining in the final acclamation. 

Very fine performances, as far as I can judge, that serve the music well ... and very good recorded sound. Superbly crafted music not lacking in grandeur, though definitely no earthshaking masterpiece. Nevertheless well worth hearing. Yes, I enjoyed this release enormously.

Hubert Culot




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