Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez (HQCD review)

Also, Concierto serenata for harp.  Narciso Yepes, guitar; Ataulfo Argenta, Spanish National Orchestra; Nicanor Zabaleta, harp; Ernst Maerzendorfer, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HQCD259.

First, a brief, and I think remarkable, coincidence. About three weeks before this writing, I was listening to the car radio and the station was playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. By whom I don’t remember, but it got me to thinking about the first recording I ever owned of the piece. It was by Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes and conductor Ataulfo Argenta with the Spanish National Orchestra on a London LP that I bought sometime in the 1960’s, a recording I dearly loved but had long ago abandoned at the outset of the CD era, figuring to replace it with the equivalent silver disc. It didn’t happen, and I finally forgot all about it. So, after the radio reminded me of the recording, I set out to buy a CD copy, to no avail. Decca had either never released the Yepes performance on CD or it was so long out of print that nobody had even a used Decca or London copy available. It hugely disappointed me. Then I happened to check HDTT’s Web site, and lo and behold, they had just remastered it! Sometimes, I think I’m psychic. And hugely happy.

Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) wrote the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra in 1939, and it eventually established Rodrigo’s reputation as a leading composer for the classical guitar. I say “eventually” because it wasn’t until Yepes and Argenta recorded it in monaural in the late Forties that it really took off worldwide. Even though Yepes would record the work again several times, this 1959 Decca release remastered by HDTT is their best collaboration, and I still think one of the best versions, if not the best version, of it on record. Best of all, on HDTT it’s even better than I remembered, sonically and musically.

Anyway, despite the fact that Rodrigo always claimed the gardens of the Palacio Real de Aranjuez had inspired his writing the piece, one can’t help thinking that, given the year of its publication, the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War didn’t tinge it with melancholy. Rodrigo’s wife denied this, saying the slow movement drew on their happy days together and a miscarriage she endured. Whatever, it’s a lovely, evocative piece of music, and, as I say, nobody did it better than Yepes and Argenta.

The composer described the first movement Allegro con spirito as "animated by a rhythmic spirit and vigour without either of the two themes interrupting its relentless pace." Here, Yepes is lively but gentle, too, an ideal lead-in to the tenderness of the famous Adagio that follows.

Rodrigo said that the second movement "represents a dialogue between guitar and solo instruments” (cor anglais, bassoon, oboe, horn etc.). What he didn’t say was how utterly beautiful is was, something performances after performances have been saying for over seventy years. Yepes says it best with an interpretation filled with tenderness, naturally, and hushed passion. Some critics found Yepes too mechanical or even too lackadaisical, particularly during his later years. That may be; I haven't heard much from him. But not here. Finding a perfect partnership with Maestro Argenta, who helped tutor the young guitarist early in his career, Yepes produces one of the finest, most complete realizations of the score possible.

Then there’s that perky little closing tune, the one Rodrigo said "recalls a courtly dance in which the combination of double and triple time maintains a taut tempo right to the closing bar." Yepes takes it at a moderate gait, without going all crazy with it. It closes the piece adeptly, maintaining the light, flower-scented mood of the rest of the work. After all, Rodrigo had described the concerto itself as capturing "the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains" in the gardens of Aranjuez. Yepes takes him at his word.

Other guitarists have done justice to Rodrigo’s masterpiece, to be sure, and I would not want to be without Bonell, Williams, Bream, the various Romeros, and others. However, for an all-around engaging, entrancing, spontaneous realization in early though still state-of-the-art sound, it’s hard to beat this Yepes-Argenta partnership in its present remastering.

The disc’s coupling, the Concierto serenta for harp and orchestra (1952) seems to have been Rodrigo’s attempt to duplicate the success of Aranjuez, this time using the harp. Certainly, no recording of it has surpassed that of Nicano Zabeleta and conductor Ernst Maerzendorfer for pure, magical charm. It makes a most-attractive pairing.

HDTT remastered the Aranjuez from a London LP, recorded in 1957 and released in 1959, HDTT burning it to an HQCD. The sonics have an excellent depth of field, the listener able to hear sounds well back into the orchestra with a realistic sense of air and space around them. Transient attack is sharp and strong, the guitar a little close but still quite natural and lifelike. With the remastering engineer’s judicious use of noise reduction, the recording sounds as quiet, clear, and clean as any new product. Rodrigo’s Harp Concerto comes from a DG LP made a few years later than the Aranjuez. While the Harp recording doesn’t have as much transparency or immediacy as the Aranjuez, it is still pleasant in a slightly flatter, more hi-fi sort of way.

HDTT make the music available in a variety of formats for a variety of pocketbooks, from Redbook CD’s, 24/96 DVD’s, and HQCD’s to 24/96 and 24/192 Flac downloads for playback on high-end computer audio systems. For details, visit http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/storefront.php.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa