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Leopoldo de URCULLU (fl.1830-1843)
La Amistad: Introducción y Polaca [13:08]
Introduccción, variaciones y coda sobre un tema de Guglielmo Tell de Rossini [9:01]
Tema con variaciones, Op.10 [9:17]
Cavatine en la ópera Belisario de Donizetti [7:19]
La Queja: Introducción, variaciones y coda [11:28]
Capriccio sobre aires de La Straniera de Bellini y de L’esule di Roma di Donizetti [5:25]
Introducción y variaciones sobre un tema de Il Pirata de Bellini [7:29]
Eugenio Tobalina (guitar)
rec. 27-28 July 2006, 22 February, 5-6 April, 26 April 2007, El Canton de la Soledad Estudios, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
NAXOS 8.570715 [63:26]
Experience Classicsonline

Urcullu (sometimes the name appears as Urcullo) is one of the mystery men of the Spanish guitar tradition. Almost nothing is known about his life – not even approximate dates for his birth and death. A few nineteenth century documents offer tantalising hints as to the man and his music. His name appears in a volume published in Madrid in 1834, the Catálogo General de la Música Impresa y Publicada en Madrid. In 1843 a poem by one Florencio Gómez Parreño was published in a music journal entitled El Anfión Matritense; in it Urcullu is described as “ill-fated” and his music is said to be akin to that of Fernando Sor and Dioniso Aguado. The epithet “ill-fated” perhaps implies a youthful death before the date (1843) of the poem? Given that he makes use of themes from Donizetti’s Belisario, premiered in 1836, he presumably died after that but before Parreño’s poem was published in 1843. I am indebted to Eugenio Tobalina’s booklet notes for this information.
Urculu’s music – on the evidence of this CD – is well-made and belongs very much to the same family, musically speaking, as the work of Sor. Urcullu seems to have been particularly fond of what are, compared to the usual repertoire for the instrument at this time, more than usually extended compositions. It has to be said that sometimes he over extends himself and runs out of worthwhile ideas. But sometimes – as in La Amistad (Friendship), which opens the CD – one is grateful for the opportunity to hear ideas worked out fully and for the creation of larger patterns and structures than are often possible within the idiom of the guitar miniature.
Like many another guitarist of the period - and not, of course, guitarists only – Urcullu was evidently fond of the operatic paraphrase or set of variations – melodies by Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini are drawn on here and the results are pleasant and civilised, if perhaps relatively passionless.
The back cover of the disc speaks of its containing some “extraordinary music”. That, I think, rather oversells it. It is accomplished, sophisticated music, written within a fairly well-established tradition and to those familiar with that tradition these compositions are unlikely to offer any of the kinds of shocks implied by the adjective “extraordinary”.
What is extraordinary is that Urcullu should have slipped so thoroughly from the memory and knowledge of the musical public and that his music should be so little known. It is full of attractive touches and winning details and Urcullu’s use of variation form is generally both inventive and satisfying.
Not for the first time, we should be grateful to Naxos for making available to us such out of the way repertoire. Tobalina plays the music with obvious sympathy and understanding, playing with the kind of lucidity that helps to clarify the workings of Urcullu’s variations; he proves to be an excellent guide into this unfamiliar territory. The close-up recording will perhaps be a bit too close-up for some tastes.
Glyn Pursglove


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