RODRIGO: Concierto de Aranjuez / Concierto Andaluz (Asturias Symphony Orchestra/ Maximiano Valdes/ Peter Newble/ Ricardo Gallen) (Naxos: 8.555841)
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Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Concierto Andaluz Fantasía para un gentilhombre Concierto de Aranjuez
Joaquín Rodrigo was born on 22nd November 1901 in Sagunto, in the Spanish province of Valencia, the son of a businessman and the youngest of ten children. A bout of diptheria left him blind from the age of four, but this misfortune would ultimately lead him towards a career in music. In 1906 the family moved to Valencia, where he attended the local school for the blind and received his first music lessons, and between 1917 and 1922 he studied composition with Francisco Antich at the Valencia Conservatory. His earliest compositions date from 1922 and an orchestral work, Juglares, was first performed two years later. By then Rodrigo had come into contact with the new wave of avant-garde composers active in Madrid at the time, but on failing to win the National Music Prize in 1925 he decided to move to Paris, where he studied under Dukas. He married the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi in 1933 they were separated briefly before being reunited in Paris in 1935, Rodrigo having expressed his yearning for his wife in his Cántico de la esposa. The Concierto de Aranjuez, the work that established his reputation as a composer, was first performed after the end of the Spanish Civil War. There followed the Concierto heroico for piano (1943), the Concierto de estío for violin (1944), Ausencias de Dulcinea for bass, four sopranos and orchestra (1948) and the Concierto in modo galante for cello (1949).
During the Franco régime, Rodrigos works were the sole representatives of Spanish music abroad, at least until the appearance on the scene of the innovative Generation of 51, and his international renown reached its height in 1958 with the première in San Francisco of Fantasía para un gentilhombre. The 1950s also saw the composition of two stage works, the ballet Pavana real (1955) and the zarzuela El hijo fingido (1955-60, after Lope de Vega). The latter was first staged in 1964 but was then neglected until 2001 when it was resurrected as part of the composers centenary celebrations with a production at Madrids Teatro de la Zarzuela. Rodrigo was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Salamanca in 1964. In subsequent years he became less productive, and the rise of a new generation of Spanish composers meant he was no longer in the limelight. Ironically enough, some of his more important commissions came from outside Spain, such as that for the symphonic poem A la busca del más allá (1976), which came from the Houston Symphony for the bicentennial celebrations in the United States. The flautist James Galway then commissioned a piece for his instrument, the Concierto pastoral (1978), another in Rodrigos famous series of concertos, one of which, the Concierto para una fiesta of 1982, would be his final composition, before his peaceful death some years later on 6th July 1999.
The Concierto de Aranjuez is a work of undoubted historical importance, firstly because it was the first modern work for solo guitar and orchestra, and secondly because it was the first Spanish composition to achieve international success after the Civil War. The war had still been raging when Rodrigo wrote the concerto in Paris in early 1939, but he completed it in Madrid when the fighting was over. An air of nostalgia for happier times runs through the music, for which there is no programme, but just a vague reference to Aranjuez, the eighteenth-century summer retreat of the Spanish Bourbon royal family, a villa surrounded by leafy woods and tranquil gardens, the sound of birdsong: a wartime allusion to peacetime happiness.
Rodrigo responded to the principal difficulty presented by the concerto, that of finding a balance between guitar and orchestra, with a delicate orchestration which never overwhelms the fragile solo instrument. Here the classical three-movement form is successfully paired with an atmosphere rooted in traditional Spanish music, while the guitar writing is suitably idiomatic. The first movement, Allegro con spirito, is luminous and rhythmic, the strumming of the guitar establishing a bright and happy atmosphere. The central Adagio has undergone all kinds of arrangements; it is an elegiac dialogue in which the guitar alternates with solos from the cor anglais, bassoon, oboe and horn. The final movement, Allegro gentile, is a courtly dance, written with a light touch and combining bars of 2/4 and 3/4 time. The Concierto de Aranjuez was first performed in Barcelona, on 9th November 1940 by Regino Sainz de la Maza, at whose suggestion the work had been written, and the Barcelona Philharmonic, conducted by César Mendoza Lasalle.
After the Concierto de Aranjuez, Rodrigos most popular work is the Fantasía para un gentilhombre, also for guitar and orchestra. It was written in 1954 for Andrés Segovia, the most influential guitarist of the twentieth century, who raised the instrument from the tavern to the concert hall. Segovia is known not to have liked the Concierto de Aranjuez which is why Rodrigo offered him the Fantasía. Here again the composer is looking back in time, not in this case to the eighteenth but to the seventeenth century, since the "gentleman" of the title is Gaspar Sanz, the most significant Spanish composer of guitar music in the Baroque period. Falla had quoted a galliard by Sanz in El retablo de maese Pedro but where his use was incidental, Rodrigos would be fundamental, building the entire framework of the Fantasía from Sanzs music. All the themes are taken from the Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra española published in Saragossa in 1674. Rodrigo develops and orchestrates the source material, for the most part dances which were extremely well known in their time, españoletas, danzas de las hachas, canarios, and so on, relating them to his own piquant neocasticismo (neo-traditionalism). The result is perhaps something of a hybrid, especially now that Sanzs originals have been rediscovered by audiences, but nevertheless displays Rodrigos characteristic vital sense of joy. The Fantasía para un gentilhombre was first performed in San Francisco on 5th May 1958 by Segovia, with the San Francisco Symphony under Enrique Jordá.
Rodrigo wrote his Concierto andaluz in 1967 in response to a request from the Los Romeros guitar quartet (Celedonio Romero and his three sons, Celín, Pepe and Ángel). The main danger facing the composer was that of repeating himself, creating a new version of the Concierto de Aranjuez, the solo part simply multiplied by four. The Andaluz however is no neo-classical re-creation, but a work inspired by Andalusian folk-music, although Rodrigo avoids direct quotation, instead drawing on his source for rhythms, turns and the fundamental spirit of the concerto. The form is conventional and treated with absolute simplicity, and here again we find essentially idiomatic guitar writing. The energetic Tempo di bolero evokes Andalusian folk-dances, the strings imitating the castanet accompaniment. The Adagio is as lyrical as its counterpart in the Concierto de Aranjuez, its cadenza for the four soloists being especially noteworthy, and the work ends with a vibrant and vigorous Allegretto.The first performance of the Concierto andaluz took place in San Antonio, Texas, on 18th November 1967, with Los Romeros and the San Antonio Symphony conducted by Victor Alessandro.
Enrique Martínez Miura
Translation: Susannah Howe