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Federico Moreno TORROBA (1891-1983)
Puertas de Madrid
Agustín Maruri (guitar)
rec. 2008, Santa Eufemia de Cozollos, Olmos de Ojeda, Spain
EMEC E-076 [62:12]

There are composers who are known for a single work, while the rest of their output stays in the shadows. Torroba is, relatedly, a composer known - beyond his native Spain, at least - for his works in a single ‘genre’. His oeuvre includes the 1980 opera El Poeta, at least ten zarzuelas (most notably Luisa Fernanda, 1932), several works for piano and a number of orchestral compositions. But those who know of him generally know him only for the music he wrote for the guitar. Yet he was not himself a guitarist; nor did he grow up identifying with this very Spanish instrument.

Torroba’s father taught at the National Conservatory of Music in Madrid (in which city Federico was born) and was also an organist. Federico Moreno received his earliest musical tuition from his father; he later studied at the conservatory and also studied composition with the now largely forgotten violinist and composer Conrado del Campo y Zabaleta (1878-1953).

Late in the 1910s, Federico was introduced, by a violinist friend in the National Symphony Orchestra in Madrid, to a musician just two years younger than himself; this was Andrés Segovia. As is well-known, the young Segovia was eager to find ways of expanding the repertoire for his instrument. In Torroba he found a composer receptive to the suggestion that he write some music for the guitar. The booklet for the present CD contains both an interesting essay (‘The Guitar and Madrid, Passions of a Musician’) by the composer’s son, Federico Moreno Torroba Larregia and notes on the programme by the Italian composer and guitarist Angelo Gilardino. In his piece Gilardino – also well-known for his scholarly work on Segovia – writes (as translated by Julian Henry Lowenfeld y Machado) that soon after the two men met “the composer had no difficulty (by pure instinct said the great Andalusian performer) in understanding the mechanisms of writing for the guitar”. The first piece Torroba wrote for Segovia was a ‘Danza’ in 1919, which later became the third and final movement of his Suite Castilliana (1923).

From the time of his first meeting with Segovia until the 1970s (at least) Torroba composed many works for the guitar (not all of them conceived with Segovia specifically in mind). Where his works for guitar were concerned, Torroba was essentially a miniaturist. Save for his works for guitar and orchestra (of which his Homenaje a la Seguidilla (1962) is perhaps the finest) Torroba was largely content to write free-standing short pieces for the solo guitar (several of the ones on this disc are less than two minutes long) or to construct suites made up of a number of such pieces (as, for example, in Puertas de Madrid and Suite Miniatura on the present disc). Graham Wade (Traditions of the Classical Guitar, 1980, p.154) observes, with justice, that “the most severe of Torroba’s limitations, looking at his work as a whole, is the reliance on a small range of key signatures, mainly E, E minor, A, G, and an occasional D”. Torroba seems, in general, to have had little interest in the structuring or development of his compositions by the use of modulation. Even the generally sympathetic Segovia could write somewhat mockingly of Torroba’s failure to write more large-scale works (see W.A. Clark and W.C. Krause, Federico Moreno Torroba, Oxford and New York, 2013, p.277). Torroba’s works for solo guitar, as well as being short are, more often than not simple; to quote Wade again (p.154) “The simplicity of the composer is both appealing and limiting […] the Torroban voice relies on subtle shifts of accent to impart the fullest degree of life to its lilting sweetness.”

Most of Torroba’s compositions for solo guitar are, in effect, short tone poems for the instrument; they are, that is, primarily concerned with the evocation or representation of some sort of non-musical idea or object. For Torroba these are often places or buildings (as in the set which gives this CD its title, made up of ‘pictures’ of some of Madrid’s famous ceremonial gates) or ‘Manzanares el Real’ (from Torroba’s set Castillos de España) – Manzanares el Real being a town about 50 kilometers north of Madrid which is dominated, architecturally speaking, by its well-preserved fifteenth century castle. Other pieces are named after Spanish forms of song or dance (such as ‘Zapateado’, ‘Copla’ and ‘Bolero’: this last being a Spanish dance of the Nineteenth Century, not the Cuban dance of the same name). Still others are studies of mood or character, e.g. ‘Añoranza’ (a distinctive Spanish sense of nostalgic yearning), ‘Humorada’ (a witticism, a whimsical character), ‘Marcha del Cojo’ (March of the lame man’) and ‘Lejanía’ (remoteness).

In understanding Torroba’s music and its interpretation, it is important to remember that, unlike Segovia (born in Linares), Torroba was not born or brought up in Andalusia. He was very much a man of Madrid – a ‘Madrileño’. In the words of his son, Federico Morena Torroba Larregla (in his contribution to the booklet accompanying this CD), “[t]hose who personally knew my father considered him as a true ‘Madrileño’, as he reflected the spirit of his town not only in his music, but in his personality as well. He adored Madrid, and introduced this personal feeling to his guitar compositions.” As very much a ‘Madrileño’ by birth, upbringing and temperament, Torroba’s music, on the whole, lacks that affinity with the cante jondo of Flamenco which characterizes the Andalusian tradition and temperament. Torroba’s guitar music is, typically, the music of a man brought up in a major European capital, endowed with a gentler, more ‘polite’, more ‘urban’ lyricism – less obviously ‘Spanish’ in the way that the term applies to that of some of the other composers championed by Segovia, since Torroba’s Spain was not Segovia’s Spain.

Like Torroba, guitarist Agustín Maruri was born in Madrid; and to quote Federico Morena Torroba Larregla once more, he is “specially attached to music inspired by Madrid”. Leaving aside the fact that performer and composer can both be described as lovers of their common natal city, Maruri’s understanding of and response to Torroba’s music is in itself exemplary. He is clearly comfortable with the composer’s conservative idiom and realizes the music’s pictorial and evocative qualities with an appropriate poetic quality which feels entirely natural, never sounding forced or exaggerated. The suite from which this CD takes its title, the Puertas de Madrid, provides a striking instance of this affinity between interpreter and composer.

Well before it was the capital of Spain (which it became in 1561) Madrid – like many medieval towns and cities – was surrounded by defensive walls like, for example, York or London or, to take a Spanish example, Avila. At intervals in such walls there were gates, which could be closed at night, at points where significant roads approached the city. None of Madrid’s medieval gates survive, but in a number of instances their locations are now marked by later constructions which are far more ceremonial than functional. So, for example, the Puerta de Alcalá stands in eastern Madrid where the straight road from Alcalá de Henares, the ancient University town where Cervantes was born and studied, entered the city; the Puerto de Toledo stands south of the centre of Madrid and is, in the words of Elizabeth Nash (Madrid: A Cultural and Literary Companion, 2001, p.10), “still the entry point for poor migrants from the south”. The modern visitor to Madrid who seeks out either of these famous gates will find that, in each case, (s)he is looking at a structure which is clearly post-medieval. The present Puerta de Alcalá is among the most striking buildings erected on the orders of King Carlos III (King of Spain from 1759 until his death in 1788), who undertook an architectural renewal and aggrandizement of his new capital soon after his accession. The design of this ceremonial gate was entrusted to the Italian architect Francesco Sabatini (the new King had spent most of his previous life in Italy). Built of granite, it has five arches and is topped by sculptures of angels. It is a powerfully impressive statement. The current Puerta de Toledo was essentially a triumphal arch, constructed on the orders of José I (Joseph Bonaparte), whose rule began in 1808. Work on the arch began in 1813, but in the same year the king abdicated and fled from Spain after the battle of Vitoria. He was succeeded by Fernando VII, who had been King of Spain in 1808 before being ousted by Napoleon – on the departure of Napoleon’s older brother, he was restored to his throne. The gate, built by the Spanish architect Antonio López Aguado, was completed in 1827 and dedicated to Fernando VII. It lacks the grandeur of the Puerta de Alcalá, though its sculptural decoration, the work of Ramón Barba and Valeriano Salvatierra, is especially elegant. In the performances by Maruri one can hear the difference between these two gates. ‘Puerta de Alcalá’ has the declarative grandeur and (so far as this is compatible with the guitar) the monumentality of the actual Puerta de Alcalá, while the briefer ‘Puerta de Toledo’ is lighter in weight and is marked by a more sprightly, yet elegant, quality – less consciously dignified than the representation of the Puerta de Alcalá. Not all of the gates celebrated in Torroba’s Puertas de Madrid actually correspond to the city’s medieval gates. It is doubtful, for example, whether the Puerta de San Vicente is related to an early city gate. There was an early arch at the same site, which was removed in 1770. It was replaced by a gate designed by Francesco Sabatini at much the same time that he was working on the Puerta de Alcalá, i.e. the 1770s. This was a gate of three arches, the central arch larger than the other two. It served as the grand entrance to a royal hunting park. It was, however, demolished in 1892. An exact copy of this gate was created in the 1990s – and it stands in the middle of a large roundabout. Since Torroba was born in 1891, the year before Sabatini’s gate was destroyed, and died in 1983, before the copy was erected, he could not have seen either of them; his composition was probably written in response to, and informed by, drawings of Sabatini’s original gate. Torroba’s ‘Puerta de SanVicente’ has an appropriately courtly feeling and (equally apt) a triform structure. Agustín Maruri plays it with a fitting dignity, without letting it sound pompous.

Maruri’s readings of the Puertas de Madrid are convincingly idiomatic and capture to perfection Torroba’s fascination with his native city. Hitherto my favourite recording of this suite was that by David Russell on another all-Torroba disc (TELARC CD-80451). Russell’s disc still has the edge in terms of sound quality yet, good as his performance is, this by Agustín Maruri is, to my ears, more persuasive and more naturally idiomatic, at times less studied in its phrasing.

There are too many other tracks to allow for detailed discussion, but there is one which I think it valuable to mention. This is ‘Madroños’. More than once, I have seen this title glossed as a reference to one of several mountains in southern Spain. Mountains of this name certainly exist but it would be very much out of character for Torroba to have taken any of them as the subject for a composition. When pieces by Torroba do contain a topographical reference it is almost always to a place in or near Madrid. It is also the case that Torroba’s music rarely engages with the natural world. In this he is a typical citizen of Madrid. As Elizabeth Nash observes (Madrid, p.5) “Madrileños are … indifferent to the countryside or prefer to keep away from it”. Torroba’s title, I am sure, refers to something other than these suggested mountains, something very characteristic of his native city. In Spanish the word ‘madreño’ refers to the indigenous plant, Arbutus unedo – sometimes referred to as the ‘strawberry tree’, though the red fruit it produces is not what we normally mean by the word strawberry. In Madrid, jams are made from the fruit of the ‘madroño’ and it is also distilled as a liqueur. But, for a committed madrileño such as Torroba, the ‘madreño’ would inescapably have had an additional significance, since the tree actually appears on the coat of arms of Madrid. It appears there in an image known as El Oso y el Madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree). This same scene, of a bear on its hind legs eating fruit from a ‘madreño’, can also be seen in the form of a much-loved bronze statue (by the sculptor Antonio Navarro Santafé) in the Puerto del Sol, one of Madrid’s busiest and most famous plazas. Since this statue was created only in the 1960s Torroba could not, of course, have seen it. But the image goes back centuries and would certainly have been familiar to Torroba, with his interest in Madrid’s history. So ‘Madroños’ is surely to be understood as another of the composer’s tributes to Madrid.

I hope readers of this review who have had the patience to get this far, will forgive the quantity of non-musical information it contains. The information is there to support my view that one can only make sense of – and fully enjoy – Torroba’s music if one approaches it as the work of an artist who “adored Madrid” (in the words of his son), whose musical vision was bound up with the nature of the city in which he was born, lived and worked.

Glyn Pursglove
1. Tirana [3:02]
2. Copla [3:21]
3. Bolero [2:44]
Puertas De Madrid
4. Puerta de Alcalá [2:20]
5. Puerta de Toledo [1:48]
6. Puerta de Hierro [1:31]
7. Puerta del Angel [1:34]
8. Puerta de Moros [2:50]
9. Puerta de SanVicente [1:28]
10. Puerta Cerrada [3:03]
11. Vieja Leyenda [2:02]
12. Madroños [2:41]
13. Contemplación [1:22]
14. Manzanares el Real [1:18]
15. Minueto de Majo [2:14]
16. Añoranza [1:45]
17. Elegía [2:56]
18. Humorada [1:46]
19. Nana [1:42]
20. Marcha del Cojo [1:51]
21. Lejanía [2:29]
22. Rumor de Copla [1:10]
23. La Pastora [2:01]
24. Montaraza [1:26]
25. Cancioncilla [1:00]
Suite Miniatura
26. Llamada [0:52]
27. Trémolo [1:13]
28. Vals [1:26]
29. Divertimento [1:04]
30. Quien te puso Petenera [2:39]
31. Zapateado [1:36]
32. La Infanta duerme [1:56]

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