GURIDI: Sinfonia Pirenaica (Bilbao Choral Society/ Bilbao Symphony Orchestra/ Gorka Sierra/ Juan Jose Mena/ Theo Alcantara) (Naxos: 8.557631)
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Jes??s Guridi (1886-1961):
Sinfonia pirenaica Espatadantza from 'Amaya'
Jes??s Guridi was born in Vitoria in 1886, and began hismusical training in Bilbao. He left Spain to continue hisstudies in Paris, Li?¿ge and Cologne, and on his returnwas appointed director of the Bilbao Choral Society forwhom he wrote a number of works, most notably thecollections of Basque folk-songs and one of hismasterpieces, Asi cantan los chicos, for chorus andorchestra. The years that followed saw the firstperformances of his \symphonic idyll" Mirentxu, thetone poem Una aventura de Don Quijote and the epicBasque opera Amaya (1920). His zarzuela El caserio(1926) proved to be one of his greatest successes, and hefollowed it with other such works, including La meiga yLa cautiva. He achieved international renown with theDiez melodias vascas, the Sinfonia pirenaica, theHomenaje a Walt Disney for piano and orchestra, theString Quartet in A and the Seis canciones castellanas.
As well as writing many highly regarded pieces fororgan, including the Triptico del Buen Pastor, he alsowrote a number of scores for stage and screen performances.
Organ professor of the Madrid Conservatory for someyears, Guridi was appointed its director in 1956,remaining in the post until his death in 1961.
The Pyrenean Symphony was composed in 1945 andgiven its premiere the following year by the BilbaoSymphony Orchestra and Jes??s Arambarri. This musicalevocation of the soul of the mountains, and the dangerthey represent, is purely abstract and unprogrammatic,yet at times touches on the narrative style of a tonepoem. Each of the symphony's three movements iscomposed in a variation on sonata form. The work'ssoundworld is characterised by a particular modalitypresent in many Basque folk songs: altered thirds andsevenths in a major key. The orchestral and instrumentaltextures are carefully chosen for their expressivequalities; in the first movement, for example, the musicstays locked in the lower register for a long time,becoming gradually more transparent as we imagine anascent of the mountains. The work abounds indescriptive effects, portraying the infinite sounds ofnature, from the light and silence of the peaks to thestorms that at times rage around them.
The first movement opens with an Andantesostenuto section formed by a fragmented first theme inG major, although the key is ambiguous. This themeappears in full in the second section, Allegro moltomoderato, in a chorale-like passage for the strings,before being passed between the various orchestralfamilies, whose "voices" are grouped together like organregisters. In a way, the second theme, in D major, is avariation on the first, being similar melodically. Itsharmonies are different however, and their dark,restricted nature marks the beginning of the difficultascent towards the light at the work's summit.
The play of different orchestral colours is central tothe second movement, Presto non troppo, in whichsubtle tonal changes result in the most beautiful effects.
There are two principal thematic ideas. The first iscreated by a harmonic structure built on G minor andE flat major triads, and a dance rhythm which is takenup initially by the requinto [a type of guitar] and thenswitches between 3/4 and 6/8 time. A passage for harpand celesta follows, preceding the second theme, whichis distantly reminiscent of plainchant and is played firstby muted violas then restated in a close dialogue withthe cellos.
Guridi's use of changing time signatures bringsrhythmic variety to the main theme of the Allegro briosoin G major, whose opening acts as a recurrent motifthroughout the movement. As in the first-movementAllegro, the second theme acts as a kind of variation ofthe first, retaining some of its melodic characteristics,while altering the third and seventh notes of the scale.
A brilliant final apotheosis, composed with consummateskill, crowns this high point in Guridi's career.
Guridi's opera, Amaya, was the Basque equivalentof the attempts made in most other European countriesto create a "national opera". It is a musical reflection ofincreasingly nationalistic feelings in that it tells a storybased on the history, mythology and literature of theBasque Country, and in so doing makes use of vigorous,typically Basque forms of popular music. Sincetraditional Basque music takes the form mainly of songand dance, opera is a perfectly suitably medium throughwhich to present it.
The Espatadantza or Sword Dance, (Act II, Scene IV),is the most spectacular scene of the entire work. This isa striking, warlike dance which is always performed ongreat occasions involving the Basque people. The danceis written in a characteristic combination of 2/4 and 3/4rhythms and is led, at least at the outset, by two of themost representative instruments of Basque folk music:the txistu (flute) and the tambril (side drum).Santiago Gorostiza
(Translations: ~ and Susannah Howe)"