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ARTICLE Plain text for smartphones & printers

ASV returns - courtesy of Presto Classical: Hispanic steps
A survey by Rob Barnett

ASV made a name for themselves, among other agreeable things, by plying unfrequented or little travelled waters. With the exception of the Turina disc that certainly holds good among these six separately available discs. Broadly speaking this approach extended to their Mexican orchestral series reissued by Brilliant Classics (review).

Do browse Presto's ASV pages.
I have already looked at five distinctive Soviet music CDs and a group of two from France, one from England and another from Italy. Now let's trawl through six PRESTO-ASVs exploring music from the Iberian Peninsula. The Orquesta Filarmonica Gran Canaria and the gifted conductor Adrian Leaper are the performers on all six of these discs. It's a shame that we have heard so little from them since the ASV and Arte Nova days of 1995-2002. The performances seem adroit and the recording quality is better than good. Documentation fulfils the necessary role when it comes to such often unfamiliar music. 
Jose Luis GRECO (b.1953)
(Perfume; Ardor - concerto for violin and orchestra; Forbidden Tonic)
I'm Superman!
Mariana Todorova (violin)
Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria/Adrian Leaper
Purchase link

Jose Luis Greco was born in the same year that Rodó and Del Campo died. He was brought up in New York. After ten years in the Netherlands, he moved to Madrid in 1994. His work titles - except the timeless Triptych (48:00) - suggest a modernist. Experiencing the music does little to counter this. You can think very roughly in terms of Silvestrov and late Tippett. As with most cases the more you listen the more the music yields. The three part Triptych takes its time. The mysteries of the Perfuma first movement are clean-textured, diaphanous even and rise to a frankly approachable climax at 10:00. The central Violin Concerto is called Ardor. It too is at first a thing of whispered sultry secrets although it ends, I think, rather unconvincingly, with some explosive pages. The final panel is Forbidden Tonic. Wisps of vividly coloured ideas mingle with avant-garde effects, baleful, disturbing and dreamily entrancing. Pastel (1994) is awash with succulent dissonances and subtle Spanish flavours; nothing is chromium-plated or driven home with a pile-driver. I'm Superman! (1996) would contrast intriguingly with Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony. It is brilliant and very diverse, mixing klezmer, street band excesses and Viennese ballroom. In that sense it parallels a sort of collision between Ives at his most unruly and Villa-Lobos revelling in street/jungle chaos. It doesn't click with me at all while the other two pieces on this disc clearly do.
Conrado DEL CAMPO (1878-1953)
La Divina Comedia - El Infierno (1908-10)
Evocación y Nostalgia de los Molinos de Viento
Seis Pequeñas Composiciones
Frances Lucey (soprano), Dulce Maria Sanchez (soprano)
Orquesta and Coro de la Filarmónica de Gran Canaria/Adrian Leaper
ASV CDDCA1100 [78:30]
Purchase link

According to the indispensable notes by Richard Whitehouse, Conrado Del Campo was a musical autodidact. He is said to be marked out by his stylistic identification with Wagner and Strauss rather than the French impressionistic models prevailing among young Iberian composers. You can feel this in the voluptuous rip tides and tempests of the El Infierno (1908-10) - in effect a tone poem. I had thought (wrongly) that the four-movement Ofrenda (1934) would by its date be a less romantically indulgent work. Well, it is, up to a point. The textures let through more light but it is still dreamily romantic and at times impressionistic; there are even moments that sound close to Del Campo's British contemporary, Bax. In the brief third movement, strangely titled Danza IIa, we hear soprano Frances Lucey who will be known in some quarters for her prominent role in the Marco Polo/Naxos recording of the Stanford Requiem (review review). Evocación y Nostalgia de los Molinos de Viento (1952) was among the composer's last works. It is another warmly atmospheric fantasy piece and adopts one of those Spanish heat-haze figures to good effect. It ends in loud celebration. The Seis Pequeñas Composiciones is for orchestra with female choir and is in six movements. This amounts to a 33-minute suite soused in dreamy Spanish warmth and playful caprice. The meditative-sensuous penultimate movement is followed by an Animado which is more strongly Hispanic than the other movements; a close echo of de Falla's more popular works but with some exotic North African touches to help things along. The choir figures in this last movement as well as in the earlier Lentamente (III).

Fernando Jaumandreu OBRADORS (1897-1945)
El Poema de la Jungla
Gabriel RODÓ (1904-1953)

Symphony No. 2 (1957)
Philharmonic Orchestra of Gran Canaria/Adrian Leaper
Purchase link

The half hour symphonic Suite El Poema de la Jungla (1943) is in three sections. It is an exultant, luxurious piece and in effect forms a companion to Koechlin's own Jungle Book suite. Quite apart from being famed for his contributions to Spanish vocal music - many songs, several operetta and an opera La Maja de los lunares - Obradors should also, it is reputed, be remembered for his concerto for orchestra La Mosca de Oro which it would be good to hear; does anyone have a recording, I wonder? The sultry mangroves of the first movement melt into a lush Ravel-style Nocturne middle movement. The final section is marked Maestoso and certainly has some majestic pages but also indulges in some flightily dancing writing before settling into a warmly calming almost Delian atmosphere.

Rodó, a pupil of Tansman, held a prominent role in the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. This involvement cast a shadow over his career during the Franco regime resulting in his years in Gran Canaria and then in Colombia where he died. His 35-minute Symphony No. 2 is in four attractive but too little differentiated movements: warm and dreamily drifting, effervescently ecstatic, moodily thoughtful and fitfully turbulent. The music keeps being drawn into rhapsodic meditation rather than driven dynamics. The work ends in a sunset with trumpets replete in ecstasy. The ending honours the conventions of triumph but, while effective, seems grafted on rather than organically resolved. The Obradors and Rodó are companion works of a similar mien.

Joaquin TURINA (1882-1949)
Sinfonia Sevillana (1920)
El Castillo de Almodovar
Ritmos (1928)
Catrin Mair Williams (harp)
Orquesta Filarmonica de Gran Canaria/Adrian Leaper
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Joaquin Turina was a Sevillano - no wonder that he produced a Sinfonia Sevillana. He was a friend of de Falla and a pupil of Moskowski and of D'Indy and had studied in Paris. His most famous works are the Danzas Fantásticas, the Oración del Torero and the Rapsodia Sinfónica. The latter two can also be heard on another ASV (CD DCA775). A recent and admirable Chandos CD (Record of the Month) of orchestral pieces overlaps with the present ASV in the case of two works: Sinfonia Sevillana and Ritmos. Leaper takes a sensitively voluptuous way through the Sinfonia Sevillana and the ASV recording team more than meet Leaper half-way. There is some silky quiet playing here alongside the euphoria of the opening Panorama and closing Fiesta. His early Evangelio is suitably placid and serene - even if it was written during the Great War. While going light on the caramel it has a sweet and dignified disposition. El Castillo de Almodovar is in three movements. Again this is a sumptuously melodic work with no shortfall of local colour even if it does avoid the castanets. Rather like the works of the 1930s by Ernesto Halffter, Turina takes a leaf from Ravel's book when it comes to delicacy and atmosphere. The last movement ('in full light') meets a modicum of striding confidence with lyrical intricacy. We also get to hear Catrin Mair Williams's harp to good and understated effect. I wondered if Ritmos (Fantasia coreografica) might be drier but it has plenty of rhapsodic colour and snap as well as seductive romance. If you enjoy de Falla you are very likely to want to know Turina; well worth exploring beyond the headline pieces. He may not have quite the clatter and bite of de Falla but he is a poet of atmosphere and no mean celebrant when it comes to Spanish dance figures.

Ernesto HALFFTER (1905-1989)
Habanera (1931)
Amaneceri for violin and orchestra (1937)
Two Esquisses Symphoniques
in D (1925)
Mikhail Vostokov (violin), Zdzislaw Tytlak (cello), Julio Joaquin Hernandez (double bass)
Orquesta Filarmonica de Gran Canaria/Adrian Leaper
Purchase link
Ernesto Halffter should not be confused with his brother Rodolfo (1900-1987) whose music has contributed to the classical scene in Mexico and which can be heard on Nimbus and Naxos; nor with his nephew, Cristóbal (b. 1930) whose orchestral music can be sampled on Col Legno. Ernesto's name may well have been encountered when looking through the works of de Falla. He completed the latter's huge cantata Atlantida, after several interim editions, in 1976. His music is beckoningly songful and rather Ravel-like in the Habañera and Cavatina. Think in terms of Rapsodie Espagnole. Al Amanecer is for violin and orchestra. This short piece is both joyous and atmospheric without being showy. Oddly enough its lyrical flood reminded me of Herbert Howells. The Esquisses (Paysage Mort; Le Chanson du Lanternier) are subtle, bright and magical with some debt owed to the tense conspiratorial writing of de Falla. The four-movement Sinfonietta is a bright-eyed thing with more than dab of de Falla's neo-classical manners of the sort you find in the Harpsichord Concerto and in Stravinsky's Pulcinella. Halffter finds a more romantic stream in the Adagio. The liner-note is by Richard Whitehouse, now a Naxos regular. This disc and the aptly sprightly performances are blessed with a typically clear and potent recording. More of Ernesto's music can be heard on Nimbus and on Naxos. The site also has a contrasting review of this disc.

Xavier MONTSALVATGE (1912-2002)
Laberinto (1971)
Folia Daliniana
Sinfonia Mediterranea
Orquesta Filarmonica Gran Canaria/Adrian Leaper
Purchase link

Montsalvatge has a respectable discography and in this case ASV - and others - did well to avoid duplication. The present four works set down in 1999 are not duplicated by Mena's later Chandos disc (review review) which offers Partita 1958, Cinco Canciones Negras (1946), Calidoscopi simfònic (1955) and the Simfonia da Rèquiem (1985). That disc overlaps Marco Polo 8.223753 which includes Concierto Breve and Simfonia da Requiem. As yet this has not turned up on Naxos but may well do in due course. The Cinco Canciones Negras are a signature work that was most illustriously recorded by De Los Angeles on EMI GROC. The Concierto Breve (1953) is no stranger either having been recorded by Alicia de Larrocha on Eloquence. In Montsalvatge's centenary year Hänssler Classic issued on a rather short-playing disc CD98.642 Poema concertante (1951), Canciones negras, A la española and again Concierto breve for piano and orchestra (1953). There has also been a crop of Naxos CDs which you can track down via an MWI site search.

Quite a lot of duplication otherwise, then. All the more reason to be thankful for this brilliantly recorded and performed disc. The three-movement Laberinto explores the Minotaur legend. The legend has attracted other 20th century composers including Donald Tovey, Harrison Birtwistle (CD review), Gordon Crosse and Elliott Carter. Montsalvatge's music in this case is variously implacable, morose and brooding, severe, rumbustious and strong on determination and mystery. There's a flickering of wit in the central encounter of Theseus and Ariadne. Folia Daliniana dates from 1996 and is described as a 'Sinfonietta for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, string orchestra and percussion'. There's a chastely shivering romance here - serene and chilly. It's redolent of a Malcolm Arnold wind concerto middle movement but ends vigorously. Sortilegis (1992) offers more cool Herrmann- and Berg-style romance as well as some Honegger-like energy. The four-movement 24-minute Sinfonia Mediterranea (1948) is melodically accessible, fulsomely lyrical and sings its way forward. Another fine marine work to group with its Mediterranean-spirited contemporaries: Gösta Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare and the Krsto Odak's Sinfonia Adriatica. The useful liner-note is by Douglas Riva who is also the author of the Turina disc's note. Presto-ASV also has Montsalvatge's piano music from Benita Meshulam on CDDCA1022.

Rob Barnett

Related reviews of Spanish/Latino music
Enrique Granados orchestral
Villa-Lobos Choros



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