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

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


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