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Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Concertos and Orchestra Works

Concierto Serenata for harp and orchestra (1952) [22.47]
Concierto Pastoral for flute and orchestra (1978) [25.06]
Concierto Heroico for piano and orchestra (1939) [30.28]

Concierto Madrigal for two guitars and orchestra (1967) [33.40]
Concierto de Estio for violin and orchestra (1943) [20.32]
Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra (1939) [21.08]

Fantasia para un Gentilhombre for guitar and orchestra (1954) [20.15]
Concierto Andaluz for four guitars and orchestra (1967) [26.01]
Concierto en Modo Galante for cello and orchestra (1949) [25.42]

Per la flor del lliri blau (El lirio azul) (1934) [20.00]
Musica para un jardín (1957) [11.16]
A la busca del Más allá (1976) [13.53]
Zarabanda lejana y villancico (1926, 1928, 1930) [9.22]
Cinco piezas infantiles (1924) [12.31]
Soleriana (1953) [9.34]
Nancy Allen (harp)
Lisa Hansen (flute)
Jorge Federico Osorio (piano)
Agustín León Ara (violin)
Robert Cohen (cello)
Alfonso Moreno (guitar) (Madrigal; Aranjuez; Andaluz; Fantasia)
Minerva Gáribay (guitar) (Andaluz)
Cecilia López (guitar) (Andaluz)
Jesús Ruiz (guitar) (Andaluz)
Deborah Mariotti (guitar) (Madrigal)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Enrique Bátiz
London Symphony Orchestra/Enrique Bátiz
Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de Mexico/Enrique Bátiz
rec. Feb 1980, Sala Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico City; Aug 1981, Watford Town Hall; December 1984, Watford Town Hall; Jan 1985, St Barnabas Church, Woodside Park, London. DDD licensed from EMI Classics
licensed from EMI Classics
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 7562 [4 CDs: 79.01 + 75.48 + 72.24 + 77.21]
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These recordings have been licensed by Brilliant from EMI Classics; the start of what I hope will be a long and rewarding trade connection. They were first issued separately and then gathered, exactly in the same format, in EMI’s Rodrigo Edition (CZS 7 67435 2 - now deleted) to mark - one year late - the composer's ninetieth birthday.

Although various companies have flirted with Rodrigo they have usually confined themselves to 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 caught and held the public imagination with its elegance, passion and sense of broiling heat, dark shadows, fountains and the cool exotic.

Naxos have launched and fulfilled a Rodrigo Edition of their own and this set is in some senses in competition with that series of six separate volumes. The difference is that the Naxos includes much more. On the other hand it does not include all the non-guitar concertos. However at Brilliant box prices the present set is likely to be as much Rodrigo as most people would want.

The four discs here are packed to overflowing. 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 certainly 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 in the memory.

James Galway was the dedicatee of the perky and chipper Concierto Pastoral - very much in keeping with Galway's character in the two outer movements and peaceful and contented in the 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 concerto is contemporaneous. It has a quizzical and confidently striding approach which in the largo moves into ensemble brass writing catching echoes of the Venetian Gabrielis.

The Madrigal is a concerto in ten small panels. It is securely done here and 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 the Stravinsky of Dumbarton Oaks and Pulcinella. The Estio (Summer) Concerto stands on the other side of the divide that separates this work from the Heroico. It speaks of a surprisingly peaceable kingdom given the world and domestic events that hemmed it in. It flashes brilliantly along with never a dissonance in earshot. A simmering warmth laps the listener’s 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 the ambience of every hotel lobby, lift and mall: 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 threadbare upholstery it might have been in other hands. In addition the melody in the adagio is invincibly memorable. The only serious criticism in this version is the expressive vibrato laid on in the adagio with a large trowel by the cor anglais player of the LSO. For me it is just too much though that’s the only slight blemish in an otherwise fine account.

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. We have here 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. That performance can still be heard on Mercury and is well worth getting as a supplement to this box.

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 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 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 a visionary mantle 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 jardín 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 Pulcinella-style antics of Soleriana. Intriguing to notice how frequently Rodrigo's works link back to the past - Milan, Soler, Sanz and Scarlatti.

If you are looking for a more full-blooded and upfront approach to the guitar concertos then the version on Hänssler is worth seeking out. 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.

This set 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 A las busca del más allá which after Aranjuez might just be Rodrigo's finest work.

If you want an unbeatably inexpensive Rodrigo splurge then this set is an extremely pleasing choice in good clear sound.

Rob Barnett



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