The name of Ataúlfo Argenta (1913-1958) is sometimes bracketed
with that of Guido Cantelli. And not just because they were two
enormously gifted conductors who died in tragic accidents in the
first flush of their careers. Both, it is said, were purveyors
of a similar Dionysian, euphoric style of interpretation. In the
case of Cantelli, Toscanini’s support and Legge’s interest saw
that we have a fairly broad-based recorded legacy on which to
judge the legend. As for Argenta, I learn from Colin Anderson’s
note that he set down nearly 50 zarzuelas for Spanish Columbia,
many with distinguished singers, so perhaps it’s time someone
got busy transferring some of them. Otherwise, he is remembered
for a handful of Decca recordings, mainly of Spanish music but
also including symphonies by Berlioz, Liszt and Tchaikovsky. To
this may be added a Schubert “Great” C major with the Cento
Soli Orchestra of Paris. Cantelli’s discography has been considerably
extended by research into radio archives. It is possible that
Argenta’s could be similarly broadened, but little has been done
so far. Readers wishing to know more may like to take a look at
the website dedicated to Argenta. It is mostly in Spanish but the detailed
biography is translated into English. Scroll down to “Grabaciones”
for the discography. Argenta was the conductor of the Spanish
National Orchestra; outside Spain he regularly conducted – and
recorded with – the London Symphony, Paris Conservatoire and Suisse
Romande Orchestras. At the time of his death he had been booked
to record the Brahms Symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic.
while Argenta was undoubtedly dedicated to the dissemination
of Spanish music, he did not intend to be seen as a specialist.
For better or worse, however, Medici Arts have found a somewhat
muddily and boomily, but not unpleasantly, recorded tape of
him conducting the music he was most famous for, and conducting
it very well. There is plenty of excitement and passion in
the faster dances, while the slow movements are tensely expressive.
He coaxes the right colours out of the orchestra. Like the best
Falla interpreters, he doesn’t rush the Ritual Fire Dance,
finding a sinister mystery in it.
this recording adds much to our knowledge of the conductor
is harder to say. Argenta completists will already know it
from an earlier Stradivarius issue. His performance of “Noches”
with the excellent Gonzalo Soriano was set down for Decca
in stereo (SXL2091) at around this time, and in mono for Spanish
Columbia a few years earlier. Other Argenta recordings of
the popular ballets certainly exist, but they also seem to
be live performances and so not necessarily any better sonically.
A glimpse of the young Teresa Berganza might tempt her admirers.
The Rossini mezzo par excellence is most effective
when the music is gentle and in a relatively high register.
In the first song of “El amor brujo”, where folksy chest tones
are required, she knows what’s needed and has a good stab.
But, just to stay with singers around in those years, Oralia
Dominguez went a stage further and sounded almost frighteningly
visceral. The two agreeable Bretón pieces, taken from an unidentified
LP, are nicely played and recorded.
this sounds more lukewarm than I mean it to. The disc certainly
proves that Argenta was pretty well ideal in this repertoire,
and could inspire an orchestra. I hope Medici will not stop
here and seek out a wider range of repertoire. While I was
at it, I listened to the one off-the-air Argenta recording
I have, of Turina’s “Sinfonia Sevillana” (Turin, 30.4.1954).
He certainly got a brilliant and electric response from an
orchestra that was presumably playing the piece for the first
time. Perhaps Medici might look into RAI as a possible source
for Argenta recordings?