I don’t know how
Arbós rates these days but I’d take a guess and say that as
a composer of zarzuela he’s probably eclipsed his reputation
as a conductor. From time to time his old recordings are resurrected
– he revitalised the Madrid Orchestra and conducted the band
for thirty-five years – but of late attention seems to have
turned more to his zarzuela. This has left his chamber works,
so admired at the turn of the twentieth century, in almost total
Allow me to express
my total incredulity that before the one under review the only
other recording known to me of the Op.1 Tres piezas originales
en stilo espanol was made c.1917 by Albert Sammons, W.H.
Squire and William Murdoch. To be accurate their recording was
slightly abridged and they omitted the Habanera. Try as I might
I can’t find evidence of another recording in the intervening
ninety odd years. Arbós was popular in London of course – he
was at the Royal College - which may account for the recording.
It’s a bold triptych of pieces for an Op.1 with the Seguidillas
gitanas making its mark in particular in this performance
– deft rhythm and evocative salon style. His Op.1 makes no other
pretensions and is all the better for it.
The Tango was written,
inevitably, for Sarasate and it was popular in its day though
I reckon this is a premiere recording. It’s certainly not in
the armoury of any fiddle players today and this performance
doesn’t show it at its best – smeary tone from the violinist,
poor intonation and a couple of missed notes.
The songs show another
side to Arbós. Seis rimas de Gustavo Adolfo Becquer is
his Op.3 and therefore, once again, very early – this survey
seems to be progressing chronologically – and not entirely typical
of the more complete control he was later to exercise over vocal
material. Emilio Sánchez takes the honours accompanied by Fernando
Turina. He has a hefty and rather metallic voice with a big
beat. He’s admired as an Arbós singer so my dissenting view
is a minority one and you may appreciate him rather more than
I did. The songs are light, simple, some sounding rather French
(the second is straight Fauré) but in these performances they
suffer from a dose of the quasi-operatics. The strenuous histrionics
that Sánchez piles on here are really no service to the music.
He should be made to listen to Tito Schipa for a month and he’d
be the better man for it. The companion cycle Cuatro canciones
para la marquesa de Bolanos could sound very much better
than it does. Turina is too reticent – the piano postlude to
Sur la plage, the last of the four, is dull – and Sánchez’s
strangled attempt in the same song is not pretty.
Finally the Pieza de concurso is a
slow test piece full of romanticism but also conservatoire dictates;
it’s a question more of projection than mere virtuosity, though
it’s of no great account otherwise.
Obviously I’m well
disposed toward Arbós’s uneven chamber and vocal works but stronger
performances are needed to convince others of their admittedly
peripheral place in the scheme of things Iberian. The booklet
photographs and artwork are splendid and a real credit but the
proofreading is calamitous and misspellings and misdatings abound.
It’s reflective of a very hit and miss recording.