RODRIGO / VILLA-LOBOS / CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: Guitar Concertos (David Ellis/ Nicholas Ward/ Norbert Kraft/ Northern Chamber Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550729)
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Joaquln Rodrigo (b. 1901)
Concierto de Aranjuez
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887 - 1959)
Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968)
Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra No.1, Op. 99
Joaquin Rodrigo wrote two small pieces for guitar solo in 1926 and 1938, butit was in 1939 that he 'struck gold' with the Concierto de Aranjuez, dedicatedto the Spanish virtuoso Regino Sainz de la Maza. It has become, quite simply,the most successful concerto written for any instrument in this century and haseven been rearranged for other instruments, by both the composer and others, butit remains most effective in its original form.
The Concerto bears the name of the site of a royal palace near Madrid, oncethe summer residence of Bourbon kings, but contains no musical allusion to it;rather is it an expression of Rodrigo's fascination with Spain's heritage-folk-and art-musical, and social. The first, sonata-form movement is brief: itdevelops from the material with which the guitar opens it, mainly in strummedchords, and is dominated by their rhythm - which serves as an accompaniment tothe melody introduced by the violins. The juxtaposition of 3/4 and 6/8 times(the hemiola) has been typical of Spanish music since the Renaissance, and it isa hallmark of this movement.
The opening of the first movement has made the Concerto immediatelyrecognisable but the heart of the work's popularity is the poignant melody ofthe second movement. The guitar begins by repeating the tonic chord of B minor(the home key of the work is D major) and the cor anglais enters, delivering themelody in two expansive sections, each repeated by the guitar with melismaticornamentation. In this the cor anglais takes the part of a singer, heard in the Saetasof Holy Week. Whose nasal quality may itself echo that of the relative ofshawm (an ancestor of the cor anglais) used in Spanish folk music. The guitarhas two cadenzas, at the end of the second of which it spurs the orchestra to apassionate climax and a proud restatement of the opening melody. Finally theguitar leads the way to a quiet ending, illuminated by a tiercede Picardie
(a chord of B major), a device which for centuries has brought musical passionto a radiantly calm conclusion.
The guitar is evidently content with the key of B major, maintaining it inits solo opening to the last movement; the orchestra, however, gently but firmlyreminds it that the home key is D major. The movement is dance-like but,irregularly juxtaposing 2/4 and 3/4 times, hardly danceable! There is muchbrilliant writing for the soloist but, approaching the end, the music quietensand the guitar seizes the opportunity to flutter gently downwards, bringingproceedings to an unexpectedly soft conclusion. The orchestration lies down withthe soloist's lamb.
It is uncertain whether the Concerto Op. 99 of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedescoorthe Concierto de Aranjuez of Rodrigo was the first guitar concerto to bewritten in this century; both were started in 1938 and completed in 1939.
However, the premiere of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's work (by Segovia, to whom it wasdedicated) in October 1939 predated that of Rodrigo's by more than a year, whichperhaps gives it the primacy. It was in fact the last work that Castelnuovo-Tedesco completed before he was driven by the Fascist regime in his native Italyto emigrate to the USA, and he later commented that "Strangely enough,although it was written at the most tragic period of my life, it is one of mymost serene compositions".
The first movement, a declared tribute to Boccherini, defers to its classicalsonata form in allowing the orchestra to present the first subject before theguitar enters - with a reminder that it opens with the interval of a perfectfourth, that which dominates the guitar's open-string tuning. The thematicmaterial is clear-cut and lucidly developed. An affectionate exchange betweenthe cello (Boccherini's own instrument) and the guitar precedes therecapitulation, and a brief cadenza leads to the movement's neat and preciseending.
The second movement, said by the composer to be a sad farewell to the Tuscancountryside he was about to leave, freely admixes bars of 4/4 and 3/2 times. Themain theme, like that of the corresponding movement of Bach's Double ViolinConcerto, is based on a descending scale, but it is the second one, gentlyrising and then falling, to which the soloist's cadenza refers. Canonicimitation, a distinctive feature of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's style, pervades thewhole of this movement.
The final movement, about which the directive "ritmico e cavalleresco"(rhythmically and in knightly fashion) says so much, is, as the composersaid "more Spanish in character, rhythmic and bold, in the mood of an oldBallad". A brilliant cadenza points the movement in the direction of ajoyous conclusion, and with it that of a gracious, lyrical and luculent work, inwhich the deft scoring ensures that the small orchestra never covers the smallvoice of the guitar .
One could scarcely imagine a sharper contrast than that between theconservative (no 'ologies' or 'isms') and economical Castelnuovo-Tedesco and thecolourful extrovert and largely self-educated Heitor Villa-Lobos, the blender ofBrazilian folk elements with those of European art music. Of the three composersin this recording he was the only one who had some skill with the guitar, forwhich he had written a few small pieces before his meeting with Segovia in Parisin the 1920s. Though Villa-Lobos left comparatively few works for the guitar,the Twelve Studies (1929), Five Preludes (1939-40), the Suite
(1908-1912) and the Guitar Concerto (1951) have become world-widestandard repertory for the instrument. The Concerto was written for Segovia, whopremiered it in February 1956. He did so only after Villa-Lobos had added thecadenza - there was one in the Harp Concerto, written for Zabaleta, so why notone for the guitar? - and the original title of "Fantasia concertante"was changed. Villa-Lobos approved of the use of a microphone by the soloist,"in order that he may play with greater freedom"; Segovia never agreedwith this, nor has Rodrigo ever done so - claiming it to be unnecessary in theperformance of his works.
The orchestra briefly introduces the first movement before the guitar enterswith the energetic, wide-ranging first subject. The second, somewhat slower,recalls (but does not quote from) the folksongs of north-east Brazil; here theguitar deploys chords and harmonics. Again after a short introduction (flute andclarinet) the guitar begins with the main theme of the second movement, a melodyof 'popular' character in 3/4 time, which returns in varied form after theexpressive central section (6/8 time) and before the coda.
Here the cadenza is interposed, a lengthy and virtuosic mulling-over of theConcerto's thematic material. The Finale has several time-changes (3/4, 2/4, 6/4etc.), a variety of thematic material and a great deal of syncopation. Theguitar is partnered by other solo instruments (clarinet, oboe, bassoon, violaand horn) in displays of contrasting tone-colours, and, once having begun, thesoloist hardly pauses for breath before the end of the stimulating kaleidoscope.
This recording brings together three of the most important guitar concertoswritten in this century, by composers of three different nationalities -and inthree very differe