Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez (SACD review)

Also, Fantasia para un gentilhombre; Concierto madrigal for two Guitars and Orchestra. Narciso Yepes, guitar; Godelieve Monden, guitar; Garcia Navarro, Philharmonia Orchestra and English Chamber Orchestra. Pentatone PTC 5186 209.

Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes (1927-1997) practically made a career of performing and recording (mostly for Decca and DG) Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. I'm familiar with several of these recordings firsthand: the HDTT remastering of his excellent 1957 Decca rendition with Ataulfo Argenta and the Spanish National Orchestra; his less-than-scintillating 1970 DG account with Odon Alonso and Spanish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra; and the popular 1977 DG recording with Garcia Navarro and the Philharmonia Orchestra reviewed here, remastered by Pentatone for hybrid SACD.

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.

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." A couple of things you notice right away about Yepes's performance, and it's indicative of his general style: First, it appears extremely well articulated, every note clearly and sharply delineated; second, he takes it at a fairly leisurely pace. The first movement, for instance, is rather more relaxed than the "con spirito" notation might suggest, so it may not exhibit quite the lively spirit some listeners would like to hear. The result, however, is a performance that is probably everything Yepes's fans love and his detractors dislike: It's a clean, well-executed interpretation, with the easygoing approach mitigated somewhat by the precision of its execution. Still, the performance may appear slightly distanced and colorless compared to other guitarists' renditions.

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 it was, something audiences have been saying for close to eighty years. Certainly, it's in this second movement that Yepes scores over most of his rivals. His reading is passionate, lovely, and gracious, the mood always tranquil and fragrant.

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 emphasizes its delightful dance-like qualities, and, again, although Yepes and company take it at a moderately slow speed, they help it come sweetly together.

Narciso Yepes
Pentatone fill out the disc with Rodrigo's Fantasia para un gentilhombre for Guitar and Small Orchestra, Navarro again conducting but this time leading the smaller English Chamber Orchestra; and the Concierto madrigal for 2 Guitars and Orchestra, with Navarro back with the Philharmonia and the second guitar played by Godelieve Monden. It's really here that the program shines, especially in the work for two guitars, which sounds radiantly alive, Monden a first-rate partner in the piece. Together, Yepes and Monden bring the various little songs brilliantly to life, and it's a charmer, to be sure. Also of note, the Fantasia might use a smaller orchestra but it actually sounds lusher and richer than the Concierto. Go figure.

In all three works the Philharmonia and English Chamber Orchestras accompany Yepes splendidly, lending plenty of polished zip and sparkle to the proceedings.

The folks at Pentatone fill out the disc generously with almost seventy-six minutes of music, and they enclose the SACD case in a light-cardboard sleeve.

Producer Rudolf Werner and engineers Volker Martin and Joachim Niss recorded the music for Deutsche Grammophon at the Watford Town Hall and the Henry Wood Hall, London in April 1979 and June 1977. Polyhymnia International/Pentatone remastered DG's original multichannel tapes for hybrid SACD playback in 2015. You can listen to the music in SACD two-channel stereo or SACD multichannel if you have an SACD player, or you can listen to two-channel stereo using any regular CD player.

I listened in SACD two-channel stereo, where I found the guitar a tad close but nicely integrated into the orchestral framework without being too large or too far out in front. The sound has a pleasantly natural quality about it, never overly bright or dull, forward or recessed. The frequency response sounds well balanced with an especially well extended high end. The imaging places the soloist(s) and ensemble in a realistic perspective, with a moderate amount of depth and ambient warmth to give everything a lifelike feel.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa