Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Reviews from other months
JOSE MARIA USANDIZAGA (1887-1915) orchestral music (1904-12) Dans la Mer - Poema Sinfónico (1904) Fantasía para Violoncello y Orquesta (1908) (with Asier Polo - vc) Hassan y Melihah: Fantasía Danza (1912) Irurak Bat: Rapsodia sobre 3 cantos populares (1906) Obertura Sinfonica sobre un Tema de Canto Llano (1904) Suite en La (1904)Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa (Basque National Orchestra)/Gabriel Chmura recorded San Sebastian 7-9 September 1998 Volume 2 Basque Orchestral Music. CLAVES RECORDS CD 50-9814 [60:38]

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Nationalistic tendencies in politics can also throw up artistic bonuses. The assertion of national/regional identity may well bring about a renaissance in music and a reassessment of composers who have fallen into neglect. Take a parallel case. The growing number of recordings over the last ten years of Scottish composers' works has coincided with Scotland's growing pride in its nationhood and its commitment to a Scottish Parliament with a measure of devolved powers.

This patriotic movement has been seen in many countries: France with Brittany and Spain with the Basque and Catalan peoples. Extremists have sadly accompanied such a drive with violence but where music is concerned the world's listeners have been the beneficiaries. The international attraction of the CD and the availability over the internet of CDs which in years gone by would have languished as local products has made this music far better known.

Dans La Mer’ (note the French title) opens in whispered mystery from the violins. Shadows of storm and passion cross the scenery. The imprint of Rimsky, Debussy and perhaps D'Indy (with whom Usandizaga studied) also register. The brass chorale which arches over the chanting strings sounds quite Russian. The atmosphere reminded me of Bax's Garden of Fand and Spring Fire.

The Cello Fantasía , although just short of quarter of an hour, is a more substantial piece. It is an impassioned essay which in its tinkling theme reminded me of Ketèlbey of all people. Asier Polo plays the piece without hesitancy, forthright and ardent.

The ‘Hassan’ piece contains reminders of the Islamic insurgency of the peninsula although it is about as exotic as Holst's Beni Mora perhaps a little less so. The ‘Irurak Bat’ rhapsody is a pleasant sequence of predominantly string-textured tunes presented without complexity. Not riveting.

The Symphonic Overture dates from the same year as ‘Dans la Mer’. Usandizaga the singer and writer of Zarzuelas is to the fore. The woodwind, both unison and solo, are a delight in an open Debussian way with unknowing pre-echoes of Finzi and some intense Tchaikovskian touches.

The four movement suite is about the same duration as the Fantasía . The first movement has a caressing theme which reminded me a little of Mozart and more often of Dvorák and a little of the acres of British light orchestral music produced during the first two decades of the century. The reflective Sarabande reminds me of the views looking down from the heights above San Sebastian into the high hills and mountain ranges which march back from the coast. The final Gigue is playfully adept light music suggesting nothing so much as a dance on a very British village green.

It is a pity that another Usandizaga piece could not have been added. There was space.

The orchestra is well directed and enthusiastic. Their string section could do with a deeper tone but is vivid. The sound quality, which is very upfront and bright is of the very best.

I look forward to the next instalments and hope that if Claves do not plan another Guridi volume they will give us an anthology of Basque symphonies which must, most urgently, include Guridi's Sinfonia Pirenaica.

While we are on the subject of nationalistic tendencies I hope Claves will record Josef Marx's lyrical and brightly imagined Herbstsymphonie and his Castelli Romana (piano and orchestra). I have not heard the symphony but know the piece for piano and orchestra.

The booklet is pleasingly designed in every aspect. The notes are supportive as they need to be with music of this obscurity. They are in Basque, Spanish, English, German, French.

Another recommended disc although the quality of the music is not up to the Guridi selection. Still very well worth having such piquantly nationalistic and enjoyable music.


Robert Barnett


Robert Barnett

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