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Aita MADINA (Francisco de Madina Igarzabal) (1907-1972)
Basque Music Volume IX
CD 1
Concierto Vasco para 4 guitarras y orquesta (for four guitars and orchestra) (1969) [28:49]
Basque Rhapsody (1945?) [21:31]
Concertino Vasco para arpa y orquesta de cuerdas (for harp and string orchestra) (orch. Tomás Aragüés Bernad) [11:28]
CD 2
Aita Gurea * (1964) [4:37]
Basque Christmas Suite * ** [7:16]
La Cadena de Oro ** [10:59]
Agur Maria [4:32]
Basque Children’s Overture [4:23]
Christmas Triptych [10:00]
Danza (Dance) (1969) [4:07]
Orreaga (Basque Suite) [10:02]
Los Romeros, (guitars)
Xavier de Maistre, (harp)
* Ana Salaberria, ** Elena Barbé, (sopranos)
Andoni Alemán, (narrator)
Orfeón Donostiarra/José Antonio Sainz Alfaro ***
Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa (Basque National Orchestra)/Cristian Mandeal
rec. San Sebastian, 6-18 June, 13-23 Sept 2005. DDD
CLAVES CD 50-2517/18 [64:58 + 55:56]

Rob Barnett’s review (see below) of this, the ninth volume in Claves’ ongoing Basque Music Collection, gave some emphasis to the background of the works. Such background is undoubtedly needed if one is new to this repertoire, and I suspect that most will be. The fact that this is the first 2 CD set in this enterprising series gives some indication of the support Claves gives to the undertaking. There must be few record companies that would devote 22 days of studio time to recording such little known repertoire. The recorded sound is full and faithful, for the most part maintaining a slight sense of spaciousness around the performers.  
That the Basque National Orchestra play this music with absolute commitment can well be understood – one can think of few other orchestras in a position to promote it as directly and consistently as they do, although like any repertoire it could be played with success by any orchestra, which begs the question: why isn’t it? Cristian Mandeal, a conductor I have long admired for the sense of drama and structure he brings to music, leads with confidence and individuality. This is his fifth recording with the BNO as part of the Claves series, and to my ears at least, his readings have become more persuasive as the series has progressed. 
The fact that this set features star soloists – Los Romeros guitar quartet and Xavier de Maistre, solo harpist of the Vienna Philharmonic – illustrates that few corners are cut in that regard too.
There are some definite highlights in terms of the music and performances contained within this set. The two featured concertos head the list for me. Both expand the repertoire for their solo instruments to good advantage for adventurous soloists. Indeed any repertoire for guitar quartet at all might not exist without the pioneering efforts of Los Romeros, and this work is no exception, as they document in the booklet.  The guitar concerto is rather strong in character from the start. Solo guitar lines are minimal, as the quartet weave textures amongst themselves throughout almost all of the four movements. Against this some forceful orchestral lines are contrasted; the quality of brass playing being impressive in fullness. The harp concerto shows a clear sense of the idyll – movement 1 - and nostalgia – movement 2 - in Madina’s writing. Xavier de Maistre’s playing occupies a subtle place within the whole, slightly recessed into the orchestral acoustic. The string playing, although often relying on violins in Bernad’s orchestration, is nuanced and flexible.
Distinct yet refined use of elements drawn from Basque music infuses much else of what is recorded here also. Throughout Madina’s concern for rich harmonics and orchestral texture is evident; that he deploys these elements with a sense of fun makes for an enjoyable listening experience. The Basque Rhapsody contains its fair share of punchily scored rhythms, which Mandeal seizes upon to bring out with flair in the performance. Some aspect of Madina’s fun-making imbues his works for children as well: the Children’s Overture rips along infectiously. The Christmas works take much of their basis from seasonal tunes orchestrated and elaborated beyond their humble origins. The Suite offers a briefer picture than the Triptych, which is wider in scope and greater in compositional ambition. Not that Madina’s smaller-scale works should be overlooked: Agur Maria carries a great sense of intimacy in the choral writing that is notable in the Orfeón Donostiarra’s atmospheric performance.
There are a few minor regrets regarding the accompanying booklet: proofreading is not ideal; the notes in English, French and German are but précis versions of those given in Euskadi and Spanish, though it should not be hard to get the gist from the Spanish should one wish to do so; more serious though is the lack of texts and translations to accompany vocal items. These things aside though this set can easily be recommended to anyone in search of new repertoire heard in winning performances. 

Evan Dickerson

see also review by Rob Barnett






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