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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Complete Guitar Music

Track listing at end of review
Ignacio Rodes (CD 1), Marco Socías (CD 2 and 3 except Toccata and Zarabanda lejana), Carlos Pérez (Toccata and Zarabanda lejana), Carles Trepat (Tonadilla) (guitars)
rec. 1998, Opera Tres Ediciones Musicales, Spain (CD 2); 2002, Galicia’s Auditorium, Santiago de Compostela, Spain (CD 1 and 3 except Toccata and Zarabanda lejana); May 2007, Salon de Honor, University of Santiago de Chile (Toccata and Zarabanda lejana). DDD.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9177 [3 CDs: 51:47 + 52:50 + 60:50]

Experience Classicsonline

I may be wrong but it seems to me that Joaquín Rodrigo is the best-known Spanish composer since de Falla. And I’m not wrong to say that his fame is based on a single work: Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra. However ubiquitous it may be, it is an unforgettable masterpiece. I wonder how Rodrigo’s path would have gone if he had lacked the inspiration to write that concerto. If you only know the Aranjuez and would like to explore this composer more, my advice is to continue with his other concertos. Rodrigo appears to have had a special affinity for the genre; it is there that he created his most inventive and inspired scores. He was a great master of elegant balance between the solo instrument and the big orchestra – even for such shy soloists as guitar, flute or harp. His concertos are a rich source of enjoyment, full of surprises and jovial humor.

Rodrigo also wrote a lot of solo guitar music throughout his long career. This music is for the most part less spectacular than the concertos. Think about the guitar part of the first and last movements of the Aranjuez: would these two movements have the same impact without the astounding slow movement between them? Rodrigo’s music is very Spanish and not especially adventurous. Its charm is Haydnesque: the joy we can find in simple things, in the world around us, in just being alive. The musical language is not very varied, and even if you may not notice the clichés over the course of one-two pieces, they become perceptible over the span of one disc, to say nothing of three. These are some of the common traits that you will encounter, separately or together, in almost every work:

1. The "strange harmonies", dissonances that are always one step to the side from the "expected" chords. Since this effect is used so consistently, you become used to it, like living in the world of non-Euclidean harmony. You can identify a Rodrigo piece by his harmonies.

2. The omnipresent tamm-pararam-pam-tata-tamm, and other standard rhythms of Spanish folk dances.

3. As you might know, the dollar sign was initially a symbolic representation of the two Pillars of Hercules, with an "S"-shaped ribbon around them. This symbol often came to my mind when I listened to certain tracks. The pillars are the loud strumming chords, like male dancers stomping in a pasodoble or a fandango. After the men stomp, the women, lightly and gently, dance around them, like the ribbon around the pillars. I call it "dollar music" - not because of the value, but because of the form.

4. Slow movements often have a cold, archaic feeling that I call "Medieval mists". They are usually static, and often modal. Sometimes the "waterdrops" effect is added, like slow falling of drops from branches on the still surface of the water, with ripples going in circles. This is arresting - the first time you hear it.

5. Another recurrent element is what I call in my mind "the Vivaldian lightning". You know, like those great dazzling bolts falling from the skies in the stormy pages of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Again, it sounds great - the first time.

The bad example of a mixture of all of these is Sonata a la Española. It has a fandango-like first movement with an embossed melody, which becomes really annoying in the long run. The static slow movement is all "Medieval mists", and the third movement is "dollar music". Only the second movement leaves any trace in the memory - the rest is so standard.

The suite Tres piezas españolas is similar in structure, and shares the archaic style with its contemporaneous Fantasía para un gentilhombre. It starts with "dollar music" that lacks enough diversity to maintain interest. The slow Passacaglia is a different story. It is a set of variations, and the guitar sounds like a lute. The bass line is Handelian, but the ornamentation and harmony are definitely modern. Like any good passacaglia, it enthralls. The third movement is energetic yet hushed, like a gentle rain - with some "Vivaldian lightning".

Elogio de la guitarra, again, starts with "dollar music" (and "Vivaldian lightnings"), very Classical, light and bright. The slow movement is "Medieval mists" with cold stones and "waterdrops". It is static and beautiful, with echoes and long notes hanging in the air. The finale is boring "dollar music", until it enters a long and elaborate cadenza-like ending, which is turbulent and virtuosic, and regains the interest.

Rodrigo was seemingly very fond of this tripartite form, and employed it also in Tríptico. The outer movements are "dollar music", mirroring each other. The first one creates an uncomfortable feeling such that the guitarist does not quite enjoy playing it, while the third has the "annoying sanguine" mood - you know, like those perpetually cheerful personalities that you sometimes want to hide from? It also has references to the first movement of Aranjuez. The slow movement is rather amorphous: "Medieval mists" with "strange harmonies".

Another egg from the same nest, though less standard, is Tres pequeñas piezas. The first piece is a song with "strange harmonies": a relaxed folk-like melody similar to Canteloube's Malurous qu'o uno fenno. The second one is "Medieval mists" with "waterdrops". This is also a song, sad but calm. The last piece is framed by "dollar music" which is very Spanish and invites you to dance something like a pasodoble. In the middle it has a beautiful "Medieval mists" episode with distant calls and echoes.

Probably the best of these sonata-like tripartite works is the Sonata giocosa. It shows the same tricks, but here everything seems to work, and the result is light, cheerful and inventive, almost Mozartean. The stomps of the "dollar music" in the first movement are not annoying; the "Medieval mists" of the slow movement have a wistful and beautiful melody; and the finale is a lively dance, with good drive and full of surprises.

The suite Por los campos de España is a collection of three independent works. Each of them is often programmed separately by guitarists. En los trigales is an energetic Spanish dance with a strong rhythmic component, a generally warm mood, and a more pensive, static episode in the middle. Bajando de la meseta starts with a stately, proud introduction, which is followed by a lively and carefree dance, with a lot of resonant strumming. Entre olivares is loud and happy, with an importunate jackhammer rhythm and a short tranquil episode in the middle.

Tiento antiguo is also from the "Medieval mists" basket, though it has more layers. It is meditative and nostalgic. In similar vein comes the first of Dos preludios, a tranquil romance full of falling sighs over a wavelike motion of the lower voice, like seagull cries over the seashore. Its companion piece does not have the one-dimensionality of a typical prelude. It is malagueña-like, lively and multi-faced, with few shafts of "Vivaldian lightnings".

Tonadilla for two guitars is probably the most interesting work on the first disc. It shows excellent writing for two guitars, with textures that are full but at the same time lightweight. The first movement is a busy yet quiet toccata with interesting harmonic moves. It really grabs attention. The second movement is a relaxed dance with Renaissance grace, and its middle episode moves from darkness to light. The final dance has a beautiful poetic middle episode.

The haunting Invocación y Danza is arguably Rodrigo's most popular solo guitar work, and deservedly so. The first part, Invocación, comes probably the closest to the effect of the slow movement of Aranjuez. It starts with the "waterdrops" effect and incorporates references to Manuel de Falla's Noches en los jardines de España and El amor brujo. The composition is a skilful mosaic of beautiful images and leaves a feeling of strange, fragile beauty.

If Invocación y Danza is homage to de Falla, then Junto al Generalife could be homage to Albéniz. It is a landscape painted in pastels. In the composer's own words, his intention was to "depict the mild, sweet breeze, to bring to mind the distant pealing of bells and the perfume of the flowers hidden in the myrtle. There, of course, is the guitar, dreaming and in repose". This is beautiful, tender music. Its moves are not predictable, and each turn opens a pleasant view.

There are some remarkable ballad-like compositions. Un tiempo fue Itálica famosa is like a landscape where each detail evokes images from the past. Memories rise and shift in the cold air. En tierras de Jerez could be a song, telling a long and sad story. Another sad story from the past is Ecos de Sefarad from the "Medieval mists" family. It is a sarabande with a Jewish flavor ("Sefarad" is how the Spanish Jews called the country when they lived there).

Little birds chirrup over old stones in Pájaros de primavera. The two layers - the sunny present and the cold past - permeate each other. This is a rewarding piece, leaving behind the scent of summer. The following ¡Qué bon caminito! is a merry song that you sing while doing physical work that you like. And since the work is long, you repeat the song again and again. However this sanguine singing can be a bit annoying to those who sit nearby.

The collection ends with Rodrigo's earliest guitar pieces. Toccata has the necessary drive needed to propel through its eight minutes while keeping the listener interested. No Rodrigo clichés here – not yet. It's absolute music, dynamic and metamorphic, with enough stability and variety. It's sad that this work was lost; it's good that it was finally found. Zarabanda lejana is essentially a prelude in a lazy contented mood. It already has Rodrigo's "strange harmonies".

The playing is very good throughout the three discs. I would especially praise the contribution of Marco Socías, whose guitar is so sensitive and powerful that you forget about the presence of a man behind it. The recording has the necessary volume and resonance: never dry or thin, it catches the full aura of the sound. The liner-note says only a little bit about each piece, but we wouldn't expect more from Brilliant Classics, would we?

Still, with all the good things here, and even considering the Brilliant Classics price, I think this collection will mostly appeal to guitar students and teachers. There are some gems and pearls, but you won't appreciate them so much after going through similar, but less inspired works. A one-disc compilation out of it would be a treat. As three discs, it's a toil to listen.

Oleg Ledeniov

Track listing

CD 1
Por los campos de España (En los trigales (1938); Bajando de la meseta (1954); Entre Olivares (1956)) [15:28]
Sonata a la Española (1969) [9:28]
Tiento antiguo (1947) [3:46]
Tres pequeñas piezas (Ya se van los pastores; Por caminos de Santiago; Pequeña sevillana) (1963) [9:40]
Tonadilla for two guitars (1959) [13:23]
CD 2
Sonata giocosa (1960) [10:54]
Invocación y Danca (Homenaje a Manuel de Falla) (1961) [8:23]
Junto al Generalife (1959) [5:16]
Tres piezas españolas (Fandango; Passacaglia; Zapateado) (1954) [13:00]
Elogio de la guitarra (1971) [15:28]
CD 3
Dos preludios (1977) [8:38]
Ecos de Sefarad (1987) [4:31]
Pájaros de primavera (1977) [5:14]
¡Qué buen caminito! (1987) [4:51]
Un tiempo fue Itálica famosa (1981) [7:51]
Tríptico (1978) [11:56]
En tierras de Jerez (1960) [5:00]
Toccata (1933) [7:55]
Zarabanda lejana (1926) [4:46]





































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