Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Concierto de Aranjuez [23:20]; Fantasia para un gentilhombre [21:57]; Elogio de la guitarra [14:38]
Charles Ramirez (guitar)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Douglas Boyd.
rec. 16-17 October 2010, Auditorio Baranain, Pamplona, Spain and 13-14 December 2010 Sherbourne Manor, Warwickshire, U.K.
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD244 [59:57]
The Concierto de Aranjuez was arguably not the first concerto written for guitar during the magnificent renaissance of the instrument in the twentieth century. It did however become the one most revered and loved, that crossed genre into jazz and was adapted into a number of different musical contexts. The poet/songwriter Rod McKuen was inspired to write lyrics-Inside of Me - for accompaniment by the adagio movement. Even tenor, Andrea Bocelli managed to include a version of the adagio in his repertoire.
Written in 1939, the premiere performance by its dedicatee, Regino Sainz de la Maza, was in Barcelona on 9 November, the following year.
Not surprisingly the second movement, adagio, attracted most attention and is about the same length as the other two combined. The concerto was written at a time when Rodrigo’s wife was expecting their first child; the infant was stillborn. The adagio movement was an expression of Rodrigo’s emotions and exchanges with the Deity. There is a recurring motif; the cor anglais first establishes the melody and the guitar answers with subsequent responses by other instruments using the same motif. The movement ends with a passage symbolic of the infant’s ascension to Heaven.
The Concierto de Aranjuez is coupled with another of Rodrigo’s work for guitar and orchestra: Fantasia para un gentilhombre. Composed in 1954, and dedicated to the gentilhombre of the title, Andrés Segovia, the four movements are based on the dances of lutenist Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710). Most of the movements retain their original names. The work was commissioned by Segovia and on 5 March 1958 he played the inaugural performance in San Francisco; Enrique Jordá conducted the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
The review disc is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is that it represents the first solo recording of an artist who has been eminent in his field for more than three decades. Charles Ramirez was born in Gibraltar. The now 57-yearl-old guitarist studied the guitar initially in Gibraltar with William Gomez and then Narciso Yepes. In 1971 Ramirez entered London’s Royal College of Music, studying guitar with Patrick Bashford and composition with Stephen Dodgson; he was the first ever guitar student at the College. In 1973 Ramirez gave his first performance of the Concierto de Aranjuez, with full orchestra. He was appointed Professor of Guitar at RCM in 1978, a position he still holds.
A key challenge in recording the guitar with orchestra - or indeed most instruments - is the balance between an instrument with no sustain, low volume, and the power of an orchestra. Some recordings give the impression of an orchestral recital with accompaniment by the guitar; others sound as though the parts were recorded discretely and then ‘pasted’ together later. One immediately evident virtue of the review recording is an empathetic balance between orchestra and soloist, without any sense of the guitar being swamped.
Overall the review recording is very well produced and engineered, resulting in significant sonic excellence. The detail is such that the reed sound of wind instruments is clearly audible [tr. 2, 6:45]. On appropriate reproducing equipment, a strong sense of presence is evoked.
Charles Ramirez’s performance is laudable. In the Aranjuez his rendition may not represent the highest level of technical pyrotechnics recorded, but it is most musical and very sure-footed. The soloist’s reading, highly complementary contributions of the orchestra and the sonic qualities of the recording make this a hard combination to beat.
The final work, Elogio de la guitarra, a three movement composition in the manner of a sonata, displays Ramirez’s prodigious capabilities as a soloist. Guitarists will be interested to note that a different guitar was used in this part of the recording; the guitar is by Italian maker, Renato Barone. In the Aranjuez and Fantasia, Ramirez plays a guitar by Spanish luthier, Teodoro Perez. The marked contrast in sound is clearly evident. The different recording venues may also accentuate this variance.
While not mentioned in the liner-notes, Charles Ramirez graciously volunteered additional information about his choice of instruments for this recording. Since 1973 he has exclusively played a particularly outstanding instrument by Jose Romanillos. This guitar breaks with the luthier’s tradition in that he did not include a specific name for it on the label. The guitar ultimately developed a problem resulting in bad intonation when played. This remained unresolved at the time of the review recording, forcing a choice of alternative instruments. This guitar has fortunately now been restored to its former glory by the expert hands of luthier, Peter Barton. There is a certain irony in waiting so long to make a solo recording, and then not being able to use an instrument favoured over thirty-seven years.
One of the best recordings of this repertoire, and well worth the long wait.
Masterwork Index: Concierto de Aranjuez
Well worth the long wait.