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Antonio JOSÉ (1902-1936)
Sinfonía castellana (Castilian Symphony) (1923) [28:33]
Suite de la ópera El mozo de mulas (The Muleteer) (1934) [8:44]
Evocaciones (Cuadros de danza campesina) (Sketches of country dancing) (1926) [6:48]
Marcha para soldados de plomo (March of the lead soldiers) (orch. Alejandro Yagüe) (1931) [3:13]
Suite ingenua, for piano and strings (1928) [10:13]
Alberto Rosado, piano (Suite ingenua)
Castile and León Symphony Orchestra/Alejandro Posada
rec. Teatro Lope de Vega, Valladolid, Spain. July 16-19, 2003.
NAXOS 8.557634 [57:30]

Fans of twentieth century European music know the toll taken on Soviet composers by the excesses of Stalinism, and the loss of home and sometimes of life suffered by Jewish musicians in Nazi Germany. Yet totalitarianism and violence extended much further in the last century than central and eastern Europe. Antonio José was killed in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, at the age of 33.

The liner notes for the recording, by Enríque Martínez Miura, provide a helpful overview of the life of the composer, whose full name was Antonio José Martínez Palacios. Despite the turbulence of José’s time and place, he wrote music in the accessible, upbeat nationalistic style common around the turn of the century away from the musical capitals. As with other such composers - I think, for example, of Bartók - José collected and published his country’s folk music and incorporated it into his own writing.

It is perhaps surprising, then, that the Sinfonía castellana sounds as much French as it does Spanish or Castillian. The symphony’s Nocturno in particular, has a Debussy-like impressionism that may evoke visions of a Monet painting. Like the second-tier impressionistic composers, José’s use of the colors of the orchestral palette is masterful, but his development of the musical story-line can be less than compelling. As the liner notes put it, "there are no well-defined thematic contrasts."

The Suite ingenua for piano and strings is my favorite work here. It is, at ten minutes, a miniature piano concerto, with a beautifully elegiac "Balada" as the middle movement. The outer movements are rhythmic and propulsive, the piano and strings by turns pushing each other forward.

I am as unfamiliar with the performers as I was with the composer. Alberto Rosado is the pianist in the Suite ingenua. All of the works feature the Castile and León Symphony Orchestra, which was formed recently in 1991, and conductor Alejandro Posada Gómez. All concerned bring complete passion and skill to these performances.

As is so often the case, Naxos has brought to our attention a little-known composer who deserves a hearing. For someone just beginning to explore the "Spanish Classics" series, I would recommend more familiar names such as Rodrigo or Turina. José’s music is good, but it is not great. It also may be imperfectly representative in light of its strong French flavor. For those, on the other hand, curious to explore the by-ways of Spanish orchestral music, this recording is an important document.

Brian Burtt

see also review by Rob Barnett



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