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24 Caprichos de Goya, Op. 195 (1961)
Francisco Goya y Lucientes, Pintor [3:50]
Tal para qual [3:57]
Nadie se conoce [2:02]
Ni asi la distingue [1:54]
Muchachos al avío [2:37]
El amor y la muerte [3:57]
Estan calientes [2:04]
Dios la perdone: Y era su madre [3:40]
Bien tirada está [2:59]
Al Conde Palatino [2:51]
Y se le quema la casa [2:45]
No hubo remedio [6:28]
¿Quién más rendido? [2:34]
Porque fue sensible [4:12]
¿Si sabrá más el discipulo? [3:42]
¡Brabísimo! [2:50]
¿De que mal morira? [4:56]
El sueño de la razón produce monstruos [5:15]
Hilan delgado [3:24]
Obsequio a el maestro [3:43]
¡Qué pico de oro! [2:31]
Volaverunt [1:47]
¡Linda maestra! [3:03]
Sueño de la mentira y inconstancia [5:27]
Zoran Dukic (guitar)
rec. 15-16, 24-25 May, 2008, St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario
NAXOS 8.572252-53 [39:05 + 43:24] 


Experience Classicsonline

This is a well-played, well-recorded and well-documented version of a sequence for guitar which deserves to be better known than it is. It is a work which deserves to be heard, more often, as a whole, rather than merely excerpted as part of one or another recital.

Though the comparison is a tempting one, it would probably be overstating the case to claim that 24 Caprichos de Goya is the guitarist’s Pictures from an Exhibition. Even if it doesn’t quite have the expressive range and power of Mussorgsky’s work, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s cycle has a distinctive poetry of its own, a subtle unity of musical construction and a wealth of musical invention that should please and satisfy many listeners.

After leaving Italy in 1939 – as Mussolini introduced anti-Jewish legislation – Castelnuovo-Tedesco settled in California, where he taught, composed works for the concert hall – and wrote lots of film music. Perhaps his experience in writing for cinema influenced his desire to write music in response to some of Goya’s most striking visual images. Goya’s Caprichos (Caprices) were executed between about 1793 and 1798, begun at a time when he was convalescing from the serious - and mysterious - illness from which he suffered in 1792 and which left him wholly deaf. The Caprichos brought into Goya’s work an increased sense of the bizarre and the morbid, here deployed in the service of a powerful satirical and moral vision, the satiric targets including religious abuses, sexual immorality and hypocrisy, medical frauds and aristocratic absurdity. In total Goya made a series of 82 plates, etchings reinforced with aquatint. A complete collection of the images can be seen online here. 

Castelnuovo-Tedesco chose 23 of the Caprichos and added to them another plate, the ‘Sueño de la mentira y inconstancia’. The work, completed in 1961, was designed for Segovia - the composer had met the guitarist, along with Manuel de Falla in Venice in 1932 - but he never made the planned recording.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s response to Goya’s often scabrous images has a greater elegance than one might have expected and this is, perhaps, a limitation on his capacity to the full range of their moods and the savagery of some of their attacks. But much of what the composer does is fascinating, often witty and always interesting. Fortunately, the Naxos booklet does the work proud – providing the listener with an image of every single one of the 24 plates of which Castelnuovo-Tedesco created his musical ‘translations’.

Take, for example, the fifteenth item in the sequence, ‘¿Si sabrá más el discipulo?’ (‘Or does the pupil know more?). Goya’s image – which is plate no. 37 in the Caprichos – shows a wonderfully solemn donkey teaching a younger donkey the alphabet. The image can be interpreted in a number of ways; the donkey-teacher points to the letter ‘A’, which might make the viewer think ‘A is for Ass (Asno)’, but the ‘teacher’ himself seems unaware of how he might be taken to be designating himself; the imagery is part of Goya’s larger mockery of the professions in contemporary Spain and of the decayed state of the educational system. The image can also be read as a wider satire of the phenomenon according to which, as George Bernard Shaw put it ‘Those who can do; those who can’t teach’. Castelnuovo-Tedesco responds by interpreting the image in terms of a particular application of his own. One of the composer’s fellow residents in Los Angeles was Schoenberg, master of more than a few ‘disciples’, musically speaking. It is surely Schoenberg who Castelnuovo-Tedesco has - quite unfairly – but when was satire ever fair? - in his piece. It begins with a kind of ass-like bray, a tone-row is played (perhaps we should imagine it put before the student by the teacher-donkey). It is then transmuted - presumably by the student, who Castelnuovo-Tedesco, remembering Goya’s title, wants to suggest knows better than his donkey-like teacher - into a gavotte and, indeed, into two musettes; the teacher appears to offer some donkey-like comments. While considerably gentler than the visual original, the music has a real satirical point and the whole is a delight!

Elsewhere, there are many striking touches. In ‘El amor y la muerte’ the woman and the dying man she holds in her arms are embodied in a plaintive tango, by turns both blackly amorous and grief-struck. In ‘No hubo remedio’ (Nothing can be done about it), Goya depicts a woman sentenced to death by the Inquisition, surrounded by figures of authority and by a grimly gleeful mob. Castelnuovo-Tedesco writes, with black aptness, a passacaglia constructed of variations on the Dies irae. Goya’s ‘¿De que mal morira?’ (What illness will he die from?) shows us, quite splendidly, a donkey in the guise of a doctor, taking a sick man’s pulse with his hoof, a well-meaning bewilderment on the donkey-doctor’s face. It’s a marvellous image of medicine with no real power to do its patients any good. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s musical response wittily - but with a kind of solicitude - plays with various conventions of funeral music, including ‘A Funeral March for a Marionette’ and an evocation of the funereal drum at its close.

It would be tedious to continue enumerating the inventiveness of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s response to Goya; enough has been said, I hope, to commend his 24 Caprichos de Goya to those who don’t know the work. It is good to be able to suggest that such listeners make the acquaintance of the work in this new recording by the Croatian guitarist Zoran Dukic. He copes well with the often considerable technical demands of the music; indeed, he is at his best in the more complex and virtuosic passages. In some of the quieter, simpler passages he doesn’t perhaps articulate the full poetry of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s writing, in which regard Lily Afshar’s performance on Summit (Summit Records DCD167) is more completely successful. But that is a minor quibble and not a serious limitation to a generally fine performance, a performance which benefits both of from a good recorded sound and the advantages of a well-produced booklet.

This is a work which deserves to find more hearers than it has hitherto attracted; and this is a recording well-fitted to help it do so.

Glyn Pursglove


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