By John J. Puccio
At the risk of needlessly repeating myself, I’ll begin with some background on the music. As you probably know, Rodrigo got his inspiration for the Concierto (1939) from the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez, the spring resort palace and gardens built by Philip II in the last half of the 16th century. The music attempts to convey the feeling of another time and place by summoning the sounds of nature.
Rodrigo 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." Certainly, Garcia captures the rhythms of the movement well, and the orchestra radiates a suitable vigor. However, the entire ensemble is enhanced so much by the hall acoustics, it perhaps lends a bit too much bloom to the proceedings.
The composer 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 can be, something audiences have been saying for more than eighty years now. At its heart the music is a soulful, almost mournful dialogue between the guitar and various instrumental soloists, particularly the cor anglais. Taken too slowly, the movement can sound overly sentimental, even drippy, but taken too quickly it can lose some of its emotional appeal. Garcia approaches it with a delicate yet somewhat hasty hand. While he is a wonderful guitarist, no doubt, and handles all of the material easily, I didn’t feel as involved with the music as I have with some other artists.
As nice as Garcia’s recording of the Concierto may be, I continue to favor the work of Pepe Romero (Philips or Decca), Angel Romero (Mercury), and Narciso Yepes (HDTT) for their greater spark, originality, poignancy, and flavor, although I must admit it’s close.
Accompanying the Concierto are three additional collections of music for guitar by various other composers. The first of these are four short solo works by Regino Sainz de la Maza (1896-1981), the Spanish composer and guitarist who, interestingly, first performed Rodrigo’s Concierto. Following his pieces is a suite for guitar and chamber orchestra by the Polish composer Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986). And the final tracks are a suite of tunes by the Seventeenth-century French composer Robert de Visee (c. 1655-1732/33), transcribed for solo guitar by the artist, Thibaut Garcia. Of these selections, I preferred the Tansman suite most of all and found the de Visee suite a bit tiresome.
Producers Alain Lanceron, Hughes Deschaux, and Laure Casenave made the album at Halle aux Grains, Toulouse, France in 2019 and 2020. The sound is reverberant and the miking fairly close, producing a big, robust, yet not particularly detailed sound. The sound is, in fact, soft and soothing but doesns’t exactly glisten with transparency. The guitar is well centered, looms large, and tends to dominate the orchestra behind it. Overall, the sound comes across as something of a big clump rather than a collection of individual instruments meshing together. Still, I’m probably nitpicking. It’s big, warm, resonant sound and should please most listeners.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: