RODRIGO: Soleriana / Zarabanda lejana y Villancico (Asturias Symphony Orchestra/ Maximiano Valdes) (Naxos: 8.555844)
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Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Cinco piezas infantiles Soleriana Zarabanda lejana
Joaquín Rodrigo was born at Sagunto, Valencia, on 22nd November 1901, the son of a business-man, the youngest of ten children. Diphtheria left him blind from the age of four, and this would mark his inclination to cultivate his inner world and then dedicate himself completely to music. In 1906 the family moved to Valencia, where Rodrigo had his first musical instruction in the Blind College. It was hearing Verdis Rigoletto that convinced him of his vocation as a composer. From 1917 to 1922 he attended composition classes given by Francisco Antich at the Valencia Conservatory. His first works were written in 1922 and two years later his orchestral Juglares was performed. It was at this time that he came into contact with the group of avant-garde composers in Madrid, a stage that came to an end when in 1925 he failed to win the Premio Nacional de Música, moving then to Paris, where he came to know Dukas. In the 1930s there followed his marriage in 1933 to the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi, the separation of his wife, recorded in his Cántico de la esposa (Song of the Wife), and the meeting in Paris of the two (1935). During the Spanish Civil War his Concierto de Aranjuez was performed, with the guitarist Regino Sáinz de la Maza as soloist, his definitive achievement as a composer. There followed works that would form the principal basis of his compositions: the Concierto heroico for piano (1943), the Concierto de estío (Concerto of Summer) for violin and orchestra (1944), the Ausencias de Dulcinea (Absences of Dulcinea) for bass, four sopranos and orchestra (1948) and the Concierto in modo galante (Concerto in Galant Style) for cello (1949). During the years of General Francos dictatorship Rodrigos work represented Spanish music abroad, at least until the entry on the scene of the innovative Generation of 51. The performance in San Francisco in 1958 of the Fantasía para un gentilhombre (Fantasia for a Gentleman) by its dedicatee, the guitarist Andrés Segovia, would mark the culmination of his international reputation. In those years he also turned his attention to music for the theatre in two scores, the ballet Pavana real (Royal Pavane) of 1955, on the life of Luis de Milán, and the zarzuela, based on Lope de Vega, El hijo fingido (The Pretended Son) (1955-1960), performed in 1964 and given a new production at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid in 2001, to mark the composers centenary. 1964 was also the year in which he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Salamanca, an important recognition by academic authorities of his creative work. In the following years he composed less and the incursion of the avant-garde relegated him to a secondary position; ironically some important commissions came to him from abroad, such as the symphonic poem A la busca del más allá (In Search of the Beyond) in 1976, commissioned by the Houston Symphony for the celebration of the bicentenary of the independence of the United States. The flautist James Galway similarly requested a work for his instrument, the Concierto pastoral (1978), a work with which Rodrigo continued his famous series of concertos, one of which, the Concierto para una fiesta (1982) would be the last work he wrote. Then silence, and death, which came to him slowly, on 6th July 1999, not far from his hundredth birthday.
In 1925 Rodrigo entered his Cinco piezas infantiles (Five Childrens Pieces) for the Premio Nacional de la Música, which was won by the spontaneous and innovative Sinfonietta by Ernesto Halffter. The jury, however, gave their attention to his work. Adolfo Salazar, the influential critic of the daily El Sol, who was on the jury, wrote: Joaquín Rodrigo offered a curious score: Cinco piezas infantiles. Curious in that part of the details could not be defined without technical language and that added a rare thing to the charming terms in which this work was conceived: a spirit full of youth and freshness, an ingenuity in procedures both original and indicative of influences of the best taste, a clarity and gaiety of spirit and charm. The work, written in 1924, was originally composed for orchestra and only in 1928 did the composer make a version for piano. Son chicos que pasan (Children pass by), the first movement, is a cheerful and playful march, suggesting the sound of a parade of children in the street, ending with an ironic wink. Después de un cuento (After a story) creates the magic sounds, somewhat impressionistic, of a world of make-believe. The Mazurka is no adult dance but a cheerful childrens holiday, which, however, transforms the style of Spanish salon music of the nineteenth century. With Plegaria (Prayer) time seems to pause; the atmosphere is intimate and nocturnal. The change is sudden with the final Gritería (Shouting), a noisy explosion of childish chaos.
Rodrigos Soleriana is a work that was virtually forgotten until the celebration of the composers centenary put it on the programme for various concerts. It originated as a ballet for the company of the dancer Antonio, who performed it at the Granada Festival in July 1953. As orchestral music, away from the theatre, the work had a very successful performance when Hans von Benda played it with the Berlin Philharmonic on 22nd August of the same year. Soleriana is an evocation of eighteenth-century Spain, based on the keyboard sonatas of Antonio Soler, to which it pays tribute, used in the score. Rodrigo adopts here a refined neo-classicism, localised, in pastel colours, lightly scored. The composition is perhaps somewhat formalist, but achieves its aim of bringing to life gracefully and from a modern point of view the agreeable rococo style of the original.
The Zarabanda lejana (Distant Sarabande) was written in Paris in 1926. The first version was for guitar and was dedicated to Emilio Pujol, although the first performance in Madrid in about 1928 was given by Regino Sáinz de la Maza. It re-creates the world of the sixteenth-century vihuela-player Luis de Milán; Rodrigo himself described the atmosphere that he sought to re-create: The old sarabande is heard, hidden among the dense lattice-work cutting the Gordian knot, enveloped in a cloud of muted sounds. In 1930 he arranged the work for string orchestra and added a contrasting Villancico. To the delicate, calm Zarabanda, with its pleasing rhythmic balance, is set the Villancico, a simple rondo, rougher in sonority and fresher in mood, that reveals direct writing for strings in its rich treatment of timbre.
Enrique Martínez Miura
English version by Keith Anderson