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Santander International Music Festival 2006
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
“ Montañesa” from Four Spanish Pieces (1909) (arranged by Cándido Alegría (1887-1976)) [5:34]
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Concierto de Aranjuez (1938-9) [25:01]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1871-1943)
Symphony No 2 in E Minor Op 27 (1907) [60:01]
Maria Esther Gusmán (guitar)
Royal Orchestra of Seville/Pedro Halffter
rec. live, Palacio de Festivales, Santander, 10 August 2006
RTVE MUSICA 65272 [31:21 + 61:26]

This must have been a very enjoyable occasion, as is clear from the applause (there are no other obvious audience noises). There is a feeling that the performers warm to their task during the evening – possibly literally – and that the audience reciprocate accordingly. In many ways it would be fairest to finish this review there, but I must bear in mind that the listener to these two discs, the first very poorly filled, will not be enjoying it in the atmosphere of a Festival concert in an attractive location, but in their own home with only the sounds of the CDs to connect them to that occasion. It has to be said that on that basis they are sound but unremarkable performances, without any particular features to distinguish them from the large number of more distinguished other performances of the two main works which are available on CD.
The de Falla is brief but enjoyable, the orchestration making it resemble Copland on occasion. The Rodrigo is an attractive and idiomatic performance, but not one that is especially memorable. The Rachmaninov is more worth hearing, again well inside the idiom and with some strong playing in the more strenuous passages. A few untidy moments are of no great consequence. Although the first clarinet sounds somewhat wooden in phrasing at the start of the slow movement this does improve greatly in eloquence and intensity. The first movement repeat is not taken, although I cannot imagine that this is likely to make much difference in either direction to intending purchasers. I would have preferred to have the violins seated on opposite sides of the platform, as this helps to clarify the musical line, but as the usual bunched arrangement is almost universal this too is unlikely to make any difference.
I am sorry to have to sound so grumpy and ungrateful about these discs. It is obvious that this was an enjoyable concert when heard live, and that the performances are never less than competent and at times much more than that. I cannot however recommend them for repeated listening except as a souvenir of the performers or of this Festival event.
John Sheppard


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