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Antonio RUIZ-PIPÓ (1934-1997)
Works with Guitar – 2
Otoñales, nos. 1-5 (1993) [11:05]
Canciónes y danzas, nos. 1-4 (1956-70) [18:52]
Preludios (selection) (1976-78) [8:22]
Preludios a Obara (1976) [18:06]
Wolfgang Weigel (guitar)
rec. 2019, GO Studio, Münster, Germany
NAXOS 8.574167 [56:47]

The music of Antonio Ruiz-Pipó has been unduly neglected. This album and its predecessor Works with Guitar 1 (Naxos 8.573975) are doing something to remedy that neglect, at least where one area of his music (his compositions for the guitar) is concerned. In his booklet notes for that first volume, Wolfgang Weigel wrote (as translated by Saul Lipetz): “Antonio Ruiz-Pipó was one of the most idiosyncratic Spanish composers of the 20th century. He shares an unfortunate fate of many émigrés, in that posterity proves to be astonishingly ignorant of his work. His works for guitar in particular, despite the sheer volume of music that he contributed to the instrument’s repertoire, has struggled to achieve any kind of popularity among guitarists.[…] The reason for this ignorance is simple: Ruiz-Pipó’s music does not give up its secrets readily, demands intense study, is technically difficult to play, and has the kind of character whose complexity tends to scare performers off before they have had the chance to unlock the beauty and greatness of this music through long and intense work […] I had become acquainted with several of his compositions long before we met in 1992, thanks to the recordings made by his friends Narciso Yepes and Alberto Ponce, which exerted an irresistible attraction on me.”

Born in Granada (very fittingly the cover of this disc carries a photograph of the Alhambra), as a child Ruiz-Pipó was fascinated by flamenco. Sadly, his father was detained and executed by Nationalist forces in 1936 (the same year that Lorca was killed). After a move to Barcelona, the young Ruiz-Pipó studied music, first at the Escolanía de Nuestra Señora de la Merced and then at the Granados Academy, where he studied piano with Alicia de Larrocha and composition with Manuel Blancafort and José Cercos. In 1949 he was awarded the Manuel de Falla scholarship by the city of Granada. In the 1950s a scholarship awarded by the French government took him to Paris where he benefitted from the guidance of both Cortot and Françaix.

Ruiz-Pipó had begun composing in his early teens. In his adult years his composing had to be fitted around his career as a concert pianist, and later as a broadcaster, writer and educator. The list of his works, therefore, is not as extensive as it might have been. As a pianist he recorded works by a number of Spanish composers (including some obscure ones, such as Jose Larrañaga and Manuel de Gamarra), but seems not to have recorded any of his own compositions. Paris became his established base, where he taught at both the École Normale de Musique and the Conservatoire de Musique. He died in the French capital and in the minds of many was more often associated with France than with Spain. So much so, that his obituary in the Spanish newspaper El País began by describing him as a “pianista, compositor, musicólogo y pedagogo français, aunque de origin español” (a French pianist, composer, musicologist and teacher, although of Spanish origin).

Those Spanish origins were never forgotten by Ruzi-Pipó himself – least of all in his compositions for the guitar. He had played the guitar, as a kind of second instrument to the piano, in his youth and he always remembered (often, one suspects, as much unconsciously as consciously, the sounds of the flamenco guitarists he had heard in his formative years).

The previous Naxos volume was largely devoted to Ruiz-Pipó’s chamber works including guitar; it includes four such works – Jarcias, for flute and guitar; Trio en miniatures, for cor anglais, flute and guitar; Juegos, using guitar, clarinet, violin and cello and Tres en reya, for guitar and string quartet – and just two, Estancias and Nenia a Manuel de Falla for solo guitar. This new disc, volume 2 is wholly devoted to works for solo guitar. The Nenia (Lament) for Manuel de Falla is an especially powerful work – Ruiz-Pipó had a lifelong admiration for de Falla; one of his scholarly works, published in 1993, was a Catalogue d’œuvre de Manuel de Falla (Paris, M. Eschig). The Nenia is one of the relatively few works (by any composer) in which the classical guitar comes close to the cante jondo – the ‘deep song’ of flamenco.

The German guitarist Wolfgang Weigel is the common factor in the two Naxos discs, the only performer to appear on both. Weigel became a friend of the composer during the last five years of his life; the two worked together, seeking to prepare a revised and collected edition of all of Ruiz-Pipó’s works for guitar. This project was left incomplete at the time of Ruiz-Pipó’s death. Two years before that death (i.e. in 1995) Ruiz-Pipó dedicated his third guitar concerto to Weigel. Weigel brings, then, some considerable authority to the playing of Ruiz-Pipó’s music for guitar. And his performances are very much to be respected. Just occasionally, however, I find myself feeling that when Ruiz-Pipó’s music is at its most Spanish, there is something a little ‘learned’ rather than instinctive about Weigel’s playing.

The first of the five Otoñales (Autumn Pieces) which open the disc, has a superficial simplicity and repetitiveness, but is given character by some distinctively Andalusian harmonies and phrasing. The second Otoñale is thicker in texture; in it, Ruiz-Pipó makes striking use of Rosgueados (the rhythmically strummed chords) of flamenco. No.3 is quieter, its brief attractive melodies left undeveloped. In No.4 there are audible echoes of the Moorish and Sephardic contributions to traditional Andalusian music. In No.5 many of the above elements are brought together in the most ‘complete’ and satisfying piece in the set.

For his four Canciónes y danzas, Ruiz-Pipó borrows (and translates from Catalan) the title Federico Mompou gave to fifteen compositions he wrote (chiefly for piano) between 1918 and 1972. Like those of Mompou each of Ruiz-Pipó’s compositions consists of a slowish ‘song’, followed by a faster dance. We should probably see Ruiz-Pipó’s four Canciónes y danzas as a tribute to Mompou (Ruiz-Pipó was much given to composing music in honour of other Spanish composers). If there are any direct borrowings, I have failed to detect them. Canción y Danza No. 1 has, so far as I am aware, been recorded more often than any other composition by Ruiz-Pipó. In his notes to Volume 1 in this Naxos series, Wolfgang Weigel wrote somewhat dismissively of this work, calling the Canción y danza No.1 “a charming piece, but surely the most inoffensive and hackneyed of all his works”. “Charming” wouldn’t be a bad adjective to apply to Weigel’s performance of these two linked pieces; but if one listens to, say, Narciso Yepes’ recording of Canción y danza No.1 it stands revealed as a work of considerable emotional intensity, a work which is rhythmically compelling (in short, far more than just ‘charming’). Something of the work’s essential Spanishness (perhaps one should say its essentially Andalusian nature) seems to elude Weigel, a something that is fully captured by Yepes or, indeed, by Sharon Isbin, on her 1999 album Dreams of a World (Teldec). It is in the Canciónes y danzas that I find Wolfgang Weigel least convincing. These are not bad performances, by any means, but they don’t do full justice to the music as Weigel very largely does on the rest of this album.

The remainder of this disc is given over to a selection of Ruiz-Pipo’s Preludios. The preludio (Prelude)
was a genre to which the composer returned with some frequency; he was, I imagine, attracted by the imaginative and formal freedom it offered. He often dedicated individual preludes to named individuals, as gestures of respect and/or friendship. So here, for example, Weigel plays two preludios dedicated to the great guitarist Narciso Yepes, both of them striking for their use of space and silence as well as some richly expressive chords. Both pieces have something of what was once described as Yepes’ ‘dry sherry’ way of playing. Understandably, Ruiz-Pipó had a high opinion of Yepes’ technical skills and interpretative perception. That Yepes, like Ruiz-Pipó, undertook scholarly research into the history of Spanish music was perhaps a further bond between the two men. There was an age difference of just seven years between guitarist and composer – Yepes being the older.

The disc ends with a set of seven preludes dedicated to the Japanese guitarist Yasumasa Obara. That Ruiz-Pipó composed and dedicated a set of 7 preludes to Obara suggests that they may have been written to a commission. Obara was born in 1914; some sources give the date of his death as 1980 (which is probably correct), while others suggest 1990. As well as being an accomplished guitarist, Yasumasa Obara was an influential teacher of the instrument in Japan. Distinguished students of his include his daughter Seiko Obara, Norio Sato, Atsumasa Nakabayashi and Kozo Tate. In this set of seven preludes for Obara, the flamenco-influenced Spanish idiom which is typical of many of Ruiz-Pipó’s works for solo guitar is less obviously present – except in No.5. Elsewhere these pieces reflect Ruiz-Pipó’s familiarity with, and ability to write in, the ‘international’ style of classical guitar music which had established itself by the 1970s. These are pleasant and interesting pieces, but they don’t have the passion of Ruiz-Pipó’s best works for solo guitar, being without the expressive harshness of flamenco or its abrupt changes of mood, things which one finds in his better works. Still, these preludes are well worth hearing, being thoughtful and harmonically sophisticated.

I welcome this second volume of Ruiz-Pipó’s Works with Guitar. Like its predecessor it is a valuable and useful addition to the Naxos Guitar Collection. Enough relevant works remain – such as, in no particular order, Homenaje a Antonio de Cabezon, Requilorio, Guitar Sonata “pur un taxi”, Cuatro para Cuatro, A Sevilla , Laudes, 2 miniaturas Catalanas, Tiento por Tiento, Preludio y Toccata, To John, Homenaje a Villa Lobos and Cantos a la Noche – for the series to continue, and I very much hope that it will. In an ideal world we would also have a recording of Ruiz-Pipo’s guitar concertos and at least some of his compositions for piano.

Though I have a few reservations, this CD, like its predecessor, provides a useful introduction to the guitar works of an interesting, but largely unsung, Spanish composer, being very decently played and well recorded.

Glyn Pursglove

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