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Don Quixote in Spanish Music
Joaquin RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Ausencias de Dulcinea (Dulcinea’s Absence)* [12:24]
Jose Garcia ROMAN (b.1945)
La resurreccion de Don Quijote [16:45]
Francesco Asenjo BARBIERI (1823-1894)
Don Quijote # [9:46]
Jorge Fernandez GUERRA (b.1952)
Tres momentos de Don Quichotte [18:06]
Gerardo GOMBAU (1906-1971)
Don Quijote velando las armas (Don Quixote keeping vigil over his armour) [9:11]
*Jose Antonio Lopez (baritone)/Lilian Moriani, Victoria Marchante, Celia Alcedo & Maria Jose\ Suarez (sopranos); #Fernando Cobo (tenor)
Orquesta y Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid/Jose Ramon Encinar
rec. Sede de la Orquesta y Coro de la Comunidad de de Madrid, Hortaleza, Madrid, 13–22 July 2005, DDD.
NAXOS 8.570260 [66:12]
Experience Classicsonline

Having been very favourably impressed recently with a disc of Spanish and Spanish-influenced music from Deutsche Grammophon, here is another excellent example from Naxos, using substantially the same musicians in a nearby venue. It was recorded only 2-3 weeks after the premium priced disc.

The present issue is however perhaps even more interesting and valuable since it contains no cod Spanishry but only the genuine article. All the composers are natives, two indeed are still with us.

By far the best known of the five is the creator of the first work on the disc, Joaquín Rodrigo. Premiered in April 1948, “Ausencias de Dulcinea” won first prize in a competition to mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of Cervantes, and was performed at the end of the year-long celebrations. Unusually it is a symphonic poem with parts for baritone and four sopranos. 

After an arresting “wide-screen” opening of fanfare figures there emerges a most beautiful, wistful theme on the lower strings, punctuated by more vigorous sections, depicting the Don’s exploits or perhaps the struggles within his own mind (?). Rodrigo’s accompanying text is in three groups, sung by the baritone, with the sopranos interpolating toward the end of each stanza the phrase “Dulcinea del Toboso”. Rodrigo later remarked: “I saw that by setting four voices around that of Don Quixote I could establish contrasts between the chivalrous, the ideal and the burlesque. While the Don is deadly serious throughout, the orchestra provides comic touches and so the different facets of the poetry are captured..” 

It’s a very affecting work; my notes were peppered with admiring comments. Lopez sings evenly, although not all the solo sopranos are quite together or on the note all the time (!)…but I didn’t find this distracting. 

Jose Garcia Roman’s contribution is one of two rather more “modern” in cut. In his own words the composer is trying to convey: “…a way of expressing in music…the desire to see ride again all those heroes whose very madness might just offer hope to our rather disillusioned society.”

The idiom reminded me of Bartók, even with passing references to the Hungarian’s “insect music”. Pizzicato figures often alternate with bowed repetitive figures in the bass, with eerie high harmonics in the upper strings. If this sounds forbidding…it isn’t. In fact I felt the alternations, depicting, I suspect, the plodding of the Don’s donkey across the Spanish plains alternating with his frenzied imaginings, very imaginative. Later in the work (at about the 13 minute mark) there is a more lyrical section featuring the solo violin – perhaps the Don musing on his state of affairs?

Barbieri’s music meanwhile comes from a different age, and it shows. The ballet has a delightful Offenbachian feel to it, whilst the chorus reminded me of the sort of works the likes of Méhul or Le Sueur would have produced for a Napoleonic occasion.

Jorge Guerra’s work provides a further link - apart from the performers and the recording chronology - with DG’s offering. There Carlos Alvarez performed songs written by Jacques Ibert, consisting of settings by Pierre de Ronsart and Alexandre Arnoux, which form part of a 1932 score for a film about Cervantes’ hero. Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, the film features Fyodor Chaliapin, no less, who both played Quixote and sang the songs for the soundtrack.

Tres momentos de Don Quichotte” meanwhile, composed in late 2004 and early 2005, is a suite drawn from a much longer score newly commissioned to accompany the same film. Although the composer explains the three movements were selected because they made greater sense as an independent entity, he does not rule out a “proper” suite being assembled in the future.

Finally the disc is completed by Gerardo Gombau’s tone poem. More obviously “attractive” perhaps than the Guerra, it reminded me of Korngold or Arnell in film-score mode, and was none the worse for that.

Since it is virtually impossible in UK concert halls to encounter music such as this - even Rodrigo’s outings tend to be limited to two or three very popular scores - discs like this are a godsend. There is a great deal of attractive and interesting music here which deserves a wider audience … indeed I found the Rodrigo very affecting and I can imagine returning to this often. Performances meanwhile are well up to the standard of the DG issue, although the recording location isn’t quite so yielding. The orchestra here appears closer in focus than on the earlier disc, with the sound appreciably drier and more immediate. Texts and translations are included.

All in all a very enthusiastic welcome and a fascinating companion disc to DG’s “Quijotes”. Go and buy!

Ian Bailey

see also Review by Glyn Pursglove





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