Joaquin RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Concierto de Aranjuez [22:18]
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Leo BROUWER (b. 1939)
Concierto de Benicàssim [34:25]
Miguel Trápaga (guitar)
Real Filharmonía de Galicia/Óliver Díaz
rec. Auditorio de Galicia, Sala Ángel Brage, Spain; 21-24 June, 2015
NAXOS 8.573542 [67:27]
It’s a different kind of déjà vu, but recently I reviewed another CD of concertante works with Frank Martin as piggy-in-the-middle. I remarked then that Martin’s appearance in such collections is “linked to his mid-20th century style, or to his French-Swiss nationality”. On that occasion it was the latter. Now I have this Naxos release with the other scenario, except that the Leo Brouwer concerto was premiered early this century. Close enough, anyway.
There’s another variation this time: the Martin work does not feature the solo instrument, but an orchestral impression of it. Guitare is from the Quatre pièces brèves, written in 1933 for an apparently disinterested Andrés Segovia. Martin immediately did a piano arrangement and then, at the request of Ernest Ansermet, transcribed it for orchestra. It’s in this form that we hear it and, according to Naxos, as a World Première Recording.
First, however, the ever-popular Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez. If you think it’s on this CD as a drawcard, you’re quite correct - the liner notes declare it “the perfect accompaniment for a concerto new to disc”, referring to the Brouwer work. So is it just a filler, or do Miguel Trápaga and company have something of their own to say about it? Before entertaining that thought further, I should observe that performances of this work tend to divide into the conventional and the conversational, or the sense of separation between soloist and orchestra. For me, say, John Williams’ first Philadelphia recording is of the former, as are just about any of the ‘big name’ versions. To generalise further, a higher Spanish content seems to swing the balance towards the conversational, and indeed the current recording is an all-Spanish affair, with the possible exception that the Real Filharmonía de Galicia is made up of musicians from different countries. Which brings me to say that this is one of the most satisfying performances of the Concierto I have heard. Both in the way it is played and recorded, it becomes a true ensemble piece, a vivid and beautifully balanced canvas of instrumental colour and mood. Free of artifice, this is a performance you can not only hear and feel, but smell and taste. In full, warm yet lively sound, Trápaga and colleagues take us through a delectably buoyant Allegro con spirito to the famous Adagio, with plaintive cor anglais setting the mood of quiet regret, building organically to the movement’s molto appassionato climax, and finally resolving to a calm arpeggio from the guitar. The ‘conversation’ is exquisitely captured, clarifying for example that the strings resolve the piece rather than the guitar’s final note. The Allegro gentile then trips along happily to the work’s tender conclusion. On the way, Trápaga’s finger squeaks intrude loudly once or twice, suggesting a re-take might have been considered. Perhaps, though, they just add to the sense of spontaneity.
Returning to Frank Martin’s Guitare, this is another of his compositions that transfixes, albeit too briefly. Each of the four short movements establishes a fantastical world of orchestral sound that you feel could go anywhere and become anything. The Air second movement, with its cello-rich sonorities, is hauntingly beautiful. Throughout the work, thrumming orchestral chords and other effects provide reminders of its guitar origins. The Real Filharmonía de Galicia under Óliver Díaz deliver each piece with panache and impressive tonal weight. We should be exceptionally grateful to Naxos and the other producers of this disc for liberating this work from its printed score.
Leo Brouwer’s Concierto de Benicàssim, his ninth concerto for the guitar, was premiered in 2002, and not performed again until 2012 when, in the shortened form we hear on this CD, it was performed by Miguel Trápaga with the composer conducting. In live concerts the guitar is amplified to hold its own against a full-strength orchestra. Whether Trápaga is amplified in this recording I can’t tell, but his instrument certainly has adequate volume in the overall mix.
The Brouwer concerto is the last, and most substantial, work on the CD, but are Rodrigo and Martin hard acts to follow? That may depend on how you want to approach it. Brouwer’s work doesn’t have their originality, and is possibly still too long, but it’s mostly well constructed, thematically strong, and above all entertaining. Its cinematic origins are apparent from the motoric rhythms, motifs and orchestral gestures that get it underway; on the one hand these elements may seem derivative, but on the other they are used creatively to good effect, without being overplayed. The Lento second movement bears some striking similarities to Rodrigo’s Adagio, a plangent cor anglais setting the theme and mood. This, however, is as close as it gets, and stands on its own as a strikingly attractive piece, with effects such as the atonal orchestral ritornellos at its conclusion never allowing it to wallow in its own sentiment. If I find that the final Allegro doesn’t quite do justice to the previous movements, it may be that the level of invention has subsided, or that the repetitive use of certain style elements is wearing thin. It’s a pity, because for me it diminishes what could become a truly great work. Given Trápaga’s involvement with the re-birth and promotion of this concerto, he plays it with understandable authority and affection. Orchestra and conductor are with him all the way, and the Naxos sound is lush, powerful and detailed.
In many ways this is an exciting and adventurous project, with two premières in a mix of ‘modern’ guitar-centred works. Naxos has done its job extremely well, except perhaps for the plain and dowdy cover artwork which gives the CD a generic, no-frills
feel. Venture inside, however, and it’s anything but that.