SERRA: Orchestral Works (El Valles Symphony Orchestra/ Emili Brugalla/ Salvador Brotons/ Teije van Geest) (Naxos: 8.555871)
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Joaquim Serra (1907-1957)
Variations for orchestra and piano Rural Impressions
Although the composer Joaquim Serra is extremely famous within Catalonia, he is unfortunately far less well-known to audiences beyond his homeland. This first CD of his orchestral works, which we have taken such pride and enjoyment in recording, could therefore have an important part to play in winning more widespread recognition for him and his works.
Serra wrote extensively, with 52 sardanas, ballets, variations and poems, for cobla, the typical, usually eleven-member, Catalan band that accompanies dances such as the sardana, but was less prolific when it came to symphonic and chamber compositions. The times in which he lived were of course less than conducive to orchestral writing; there were neither many orchestras in Spain then, nor many well-established concert societies or performance venues. Serra also lived through the tragedy of the Civil War and the harshest years of the Franco dictatorship before his early death in 1957. Nevertheless, his music is truly full of character: it has an extraordinary lyricism, underpinned by appealing harmonic writing, an absolute mastery of orchestration, displaying both his understanding of instrumental colour and a limpid, intricate and fluid use of counterpoint, and a unity of thematic ideas, whose interpretation and development are always tinged with a fresh Catalan flavour, evoking fresh mountain air, the scent of the Mediterranean and local dance rhythms.
Puigsoliu is a small-scale symphonic poem, originally written for cobla, of such beauty, optimism, lyricism, originality and harmony, that I could not resist the temptation to orchestrate it. This was in fact the composers last work and was first performed only three months before his death.
Impressions camperoles (Rural Impressions), dated 1927, is a very typically Catalan work, with additional influences from French Impressionism. Albada (Dawn) is a perfect and poetic depiction of daybreak. Mainada jugant (Children Playing) recalls those far-off, fun-packed days of childrens games. Sota els pins (Beneath the Pines) is very serene, contemplative and tender. La vall dels ecos (The Valley of Echoes) is a very short movement of great originality, in which the brief thematic ideas are repeated by muted trumpets, thereby providing the echo effect. Festa represents the elation of the dances which are part of any Catalan festivity. The joyful and masterly combination of the two principal themes is particularly noteworthy.
Romàntica, as its title suggests, is a passionate melody, soaring high on the strings, with a short central section dominated by three solo interventions.
Variacions per a orquestra i piano is a work which falls into the best European symphonic tradition. The theme is introduced softly by the clarinet. There follow five variations of great virtuosity from the pianist, supported by the orchestra, which plays an important rôle, establishing a highly effective dialogue with the soloist. The title chosen by the composer indicates his basically symbolic intent. This work was a prize-winner at the 1931 Concepció Rabell Foundation competition.
Dues estampes simfòniques is a work full of Spanish folk colour, very characteristic of its time. The two estampes are sparkling and brilliantly orchestrated, Serra taking Andalusian folk-tunes and imbuing them with a Mediterranean quality. The first includes an habanera in the central section and the second a relaxed and inspired nocturne, also in the central section and played by the cor anglais.
Translated by: Susannah Howe