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Josť ARRIOLA (1895-1954)
Concertino for Piano and Orchestra [26:03]
Divertimento concertante for 2 pianos and orchestra [33:05]
Extracts from Seis poesias de Antonio Machado [8:48]
Tres textos cervantinos [17:49]
Concerto for Horn and Orchestra [29:58]
Joaquin Soriano, Victor & Luis del Valle (pianos)
Javier Franc (baritone)
Carmen Duran (soprano)
Ainhoa Zubillaga (alto)
Francisco Santiago (tenor)
David Fernandez Alonso (horn)
Real Filharmonia de Galicia/Maximino Zumalave
rec. 2010/11, Auditorio de Galicia, Spain
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95797 [2 CDs: 116:01]

The music of Josť Arriola has never been recorded before, and so it is good that I can give a warm welcome to this two CD set, issued by Brilliant Classics. He was born in Galicia in northern Spain and became a celebrated child prodigy (and I mean child – performing in public under the age of three), and this has resulted in him being largely remembered for his activities as a performer. The manuscripts of his compositions were lost for many years, and were then discovered in an old people’s home. They were photocopied, and then mysteriously vanished again.

The first CD contains two piano concertos, the first, a 26-minute piece entitled ‘concertino’ does not strike me as being particularly small scale, and dates from 1953. It displays some Spanish fingerprints, but to nothing like the degree that are encountered in say, Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Nor does it have the melodic individuality of Falla’s music. I should think that Arriola had encountered some Neo-Classical works and had been influenced by them, and the occasionally slightly ‘clattery’ sound to the piano rather remind me of sections of Bartok’s 3rd piano concerto. One thing is very much in evidence, Arriola had no time for Schoenbergian techniques.

The other piano concerto is the longer 1946 Divertimento concertante for two pianos. As its title implies, some degree of Neo-Classicism is encountered here, and it occupies the same sort of sound world as its smaller sibling. The booklet quotes an unnamed source (the composer?), saying of it that it is “a way of playing with various ideas and schools”.
Once again, I don’t encounter much by way of particular memorability or individuality, but that is not to say that these works aren’t enjoyable – they are, with atmospheric slow movements, and plenty of drive in the finales.

The second disc contains what are, for me, the highlights of the set. The opening song La aurora asomaba - El cadalso. (The gallows as the aurora loomed), is an intensely striking, dramatic affair, opening with an ominous base drum solo followed by brass and low woodwind. The baritone enters in declamatory style, with the orchestral music rather disjointedly accompanying him. An orchestral interlude follows which provides contrast by being far more lyrical, but when the soloist follows on, we are once more in a world where violent orchestral interruptions are the order of the day. The piece ends by fading into silence.

The next song is very different; La primavera besaba (Spring was gently kissing) is more conventional, and is followed by a short quite dramatic instrumental epilogue, ending in a crash of the tam-tam.

The Tres textos cervantinos begin with an unusual setting for tenor, baritone, alto and soprano; Aqui lloro Don Quixote (Here wept Don Quixote). It is a long song at nearly nine minutes, and clearly emanates from the same pen as the first song on the CD, being alternately, dramatic, lyrical and pensive, with the orchestra being a major player, not only as accompanist, but also providing interesting purely instrumental interludes. It is followed by Mal me guardereis (In vain you try to guard me) for soprano, and then Marinero soy de amor (Love’s sailor am I) for baritone. In all three of these songs, Arriola’s orchestral command is very evident, with interesting instrumental combinations adding to the thematic attraction of his settings. They are sung well by all four soloists.

I’ve been impressed by these examples of Arriola’s song settings, and I only wish that texts had been available in the CD booklet. However, it is possible, with a bit of persistence, to find the various poems online. Google Translate then comes to the aid of your poor reviewer who doesn’t read Spanish.

The second CD ends with Arriola’s half-hour long Horn Concerto of 1948. Neo-Classicism is once again the order of the day, with pleasantly piquant orchestral writing supporting the horn. As in the piano concertos on CD 1, to my ears, Arriola does not extend his Neo-Classicism to writing for a pared-down orchestra, and during the slow movements he allows himself to relax into a romantic haze, which transitions nicely into the sprightly finale.

Brilliant’s booklet content could be better, being rather generalised, and so little appears to have been disseminated about Arriola, that the usual online searches don’t reveal much. The booklet does state that the recordings have been made as part of a research project, supported by the Council for Galician Culture, and that it is planned to make more recordings of his piano and chamber music. In addition, a biography has also been written.

The recording is good, with voices well balanced, and the orchestra plays well in a warm acoustic.

Jim Westhead

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