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La Vida Breve
Nadčge Rochat (cello)
Rafael Aguirre (guitar)
rec. Immanuels Church, Wuppertal, Germany, 2014

I’m not aware of many discs with music pairing cello and guitar but it certainly works as this disc shows. The guitar usually presents the lively lighter side while the cello injects a more thoughtful and reflective mood. The two musicians here only met in 2011 yet their music-making seems very well honed and the rapport between them is very obvious. The pair made all the arrangements bar two for this disc of music mainly by Spanish composers. To this core they add some from French (Ravel), Argentinean (Gardel and Piazzolla), Mexican (Lara) and Brazilian (Gismonti and Assad) hands.

Granados’ Intermezzo from Goyescas is a piece of quintessentially Spanish music with the cello’s bittersweet line very effectively highlighted against the guitar’s more laid-back one. De Falla’s Seven Spanish Popular songs are also extremely evocative of all we think of when we think of Spain. Jota is a perfect case in point with the passion of this typical Spanish dance brilliantly captured by these two instruments.

Whenever I hear the music of Granados, who was considered along with De Falla and Albéniz as one of the most important musicians of the first half of the twentieth century, I feel a pang of real sadness at the terrible loss to music occasioned by his truly unfortunate death. On a visit to the USA to play before President Wilson he delayed his departure for Spain to record some piano-rolls which can be heard today. This delay meant he had missed his boat to return to Spain directly and was forced to sail on one to England where he caught the passenger ferry SS Sussex for Dieppe along with his wife Amparo. During its journey across the channel it was hit by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat since this was 1916 and the First World War was still raging. The boat broke in two and amazingly the half with his cabin on did not sink but was towed back to port with almost all the passengers apart from Granados and his wife. Granados was in a lifeboat but somehow his wife had become separated from him. Granados saw her flailing around in the sea and he dived off the lifeboat to save her; they both drowned leaving six orphans; he was 49 years old. The Oriental from his 12 Spanish Dances is a really poignant piece and seems all the more so as you reflect on his untimely death and what else might have been composed had he lived.

The disc’s title piece, De Falla’s La Vida Breve is a spirited work as befits the story of an untrustworthy man, Paco, who despite declaring his love for a gypsy girl goes on to marry the daughter of a well off family. The gypsy girl Salud gatecrashes the wedding party and after dressing down the man who left her then collapses and dies at his feet.

It has often been said that the best Spanish music was written by non-Spaniards which is as much a slur as those who claimed British music was ‘cow-pat music’. One only has to listen to the music of Granados, Albéniz and De Falla as well as many more to reject this. However, it must be recognised that several non-Spanish composers wrote some very convincing ‘Spanish’ music that evokes that country very well. Debussy was one example and Ravel was certainly another. In Ravel's case perhaps being born in the French Basque region only 11 miles from the border with Spain exerted the necessary influence in addition to that of his mother who surrounded him with music from Spain. The composer of Boléro and Alborada del gracioso also wrote the next work on this disc, Piece in Habanera style which is as ‘Spanish’ as anything that ever came out of Spain itself.

Gaspar Cassadó was born in Barcelona and was well known as a fine cellist. He was a pupil of Casals who unfortunately seriously affected his pupil's career when he accused Cassadó of being a collaborator, an accusation that is still questioned. His piece Requiebros (flattery) is another of this duo’s arrangements which works really well in this combination. As if to emphasise the previous statement about non-Spaniards’ ‘Spanish’ music we next have a piece by Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti, himself also a guitarist as well as a pianist. He is just as well known in the world of jazz for his collaborations with bassist Charlie Haden. This piece entitled Agua e Vinho (water and wine) reflects on two of life’s important things and comes from his 1972 album of the same name.

It would hardly be a disc of music by Spanish or Spanish-influenced composers if it did not include something by the Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla. Like Gismondi he was a pupil of Nadia Boulanger and was master of the bandonéon. The first of three of his works on this disc is the famous Libertango that in under three minutes perfectly captures the essence of tango. In between Piazzolla’s works here is a lovely piece by another Brazilian, Sérgio Assad. This he arranged himself from a version usually performed by himself and his brother on guitars and recorded along with Yo-Yo Ma on cello. Inspired by the tenderness of a small child Menino is a delight. We now return to Piazzolla with two of his compositions Nightclub 1960, a movement from his work Histoire du Tango for flute and guitar. It appears here in another arrangement by the two musicians on this disc as does the last of Piazzolla’s pieces, Oblivion, a beautifully poetic work whose inspiration remains a mystery.

Considered the ‘father of tango’ Carlos Gardel the Franco-Argentinean composer wrote the penultimate work on the disc Volver (Returning). This is considered the most representative work in the entire history of tango. It is an extremely heart-rending piece of aching nostalgia and with words that match the music in every way "Living with my soul bound to a sweet memory that makes me weep yet again". The booklet notes remind us of the vagaries of fate telling the story of Piazzolla’s father’s refusal to allow his young son to go off on tour with his older friend and mentor Gardel who died, along with his entire band, in an airplane crash in 1935 aged 45.
What must surely be the most quintessentially Spanish of all pieces Granada was in fact written by a Mexican, the multi-named Ángel Agustín María Carlos Fausto Mariano Alfonso del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Lara y Aguirre del Pino — Agustín Lara for short. Born in 1897 Lara was a composer of over 700 songs — more even than Schubert — and during his flamboyant life had six wives. Nothing more can be said about this work which is the tune everyone undoubtedly thinks of when Spain and music are mentioned in the same breath. Nadčge Rochat and Rafael Aguirre’s arrangement brings out the real kernel of the tune in the most brilliant fashion.

This disc was immensely enjoyable giving an unusual take on many pieces we all know well in arrangements that underline the best elements of the tunes in a highly inventive and innovative way. Both musicians are clearly at the top of their game and further collaborations are eagerly awaited by this reviewer.

Steve Arloff
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Intermezzo from Goyescas [4:25]
Manuel DE FALLA (1876-1946)
Seven Spanish Popular songs [14:26]
Oriental from 12 Spanish dances [5:37]
La Vida Breve [3:29]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piece in Habanera style [3:08]
Gaspar CASSADÓ (1897-1966)
Requiebros [5:09]
Egberto GISMONTI (b.1947)
Agua e Vinho [3:55]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Libertango [2:41]
Sérgio ASSAD (b.1952)
Menino [3:30]
Nightclub 1960 [5:36]
Oblivion [3:44]
Carlos GARDEL (1890-1935)
Volver [2:42]
Agustín LARA (1897-1970)
Granada [3:29]


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