About this Recording
8.573255 - MORENO TORROBA, F.: Guitar Concertos, Vol. 1 - Concierto en flamenco / Diálogos (Pepe Romero, V. Coves, Málaga Philharmonic, M. Coves)

Federico Moreno Torroba (1891–1982)
Concierto en Flamenco • Diálogos entre guitarra y orquesta • Aires de la Mancha • Suite castellana


Federico Moreno Torroba is one of the outstanding figures in the history of modern Spanish music. He is renowned as the composer of many popular zarzuelas, Spanish operettas alternating musical numbers with spoken dialogue. Chief among these are such masterpieces as Luisa Fernanda (1932) and La chulapona (1934). Torroba is best known to concert audiences, however, for his nearly one hundred works for the guitar, including solos, quartets, and ten concertos. Most of these were composed at the behest of Andrés Segovia and, later, the Romeros. Whether for the theatre or the guitar, Torroba’s distinctive style always embraced a wide variety of Spanish regional folklore in the context of a musical language that is resolutely tonal, metric, and traditional in form. Torroba’s guitar works in particular are notable for their memorable melodies, animated dance rhythms, and evocative character.

Concierto en Flamenco (1962)

Torroba wrote two guitar concertos for notable flamenco guitarists. One was the Fantasía flamenca, which was first heard in 1976 at Carnegie Hall, with Mario Escudero as soloist, but the first such work he composed emerged perhaps two decades earlier and was dedicated to the great virtuoso Sabicas. This was the Concierto en Flamenco. The difficulty writing a “flamenco concerto” poses is that it requires a soloist of exceptional abilities. Most flamenco guitarists are not accustomed to operating in the classical milieu of the symphony orchestra, but classical guitarists generally do not play flamenco. One needs more than flashy technique to play flamenco guitar; it requires a broad and deep knowledge of the various styles of song and dance (palos), their rhythms, melodic character, and emotion. This can only be acquired by accompanying singers and dancers and developing the ability to improvise. This sort of music making is as alien to the classical guitarist as a symphony orchestra is to the flamenco guitarist. Pepe Romero is justly famous for his masterful interpretations of both classical and flamenco repertoires. His interpretation of the Concierto en Flamenco is notable both for its technical precision and for conveying the emotional directness and sincerity of Sabicas’s playing.

The first movement begins with an orchestral introduction that is both reflective and emotionally charged. The guitarist and orchestra then elaborate on themes from the fandango de Huelva. The second movement presents a stirring rhapsody on the farruca, a palo in duple metre that is only danced, not sung. The third movement is a beautiful alegrías, whose very name suggests the mood of gaiety and high spirits that prevails here. The bulerías is the most animated of palos and dominates the final movement, bringing this flamenco concerto to a thrilling conclusion.

Diálogos entre guitarra y orquesta (1977)

Constructing a concerto as a series of “dialogues” between the guitar and the orchestra is not only an appealing idea but the best way to allow the guitar to be heard. Despite its rather abstract title, the Spanish character of this work is unmistakable. Originally composed for Andrés Segovia in the early 1960s, it was later revised and given its première by Michael Lorimer in 1977. The first recording of it, however, was made by Pepe Romero in 1980. Vicente Coves’s interpretation is a worthy successor. Torroba’s orchestra includes the usual complement of strings and woodwind, in addition to trumpet, percussion, celesta, and harp. This distinctive ensemble provides plenty of tone colour but is not so large as to overwhelm the soloist.

The first movement is marked Allegretto, comodo and starts with a light-hearted melody in the wind and celesta, which prepares the way for the solo guitar’s presentation of yet another component of the opening group of themes. Its symmetrical phrasing and modality suggest Spanish folk-lore. The guitarist also introduces a contrasting secondary theme, in triple meter and more reflective in nature. Throughout, Torroba skilfully develops his themes in both the guitar and orchestra.

The second movement is marked Andantino mosso and exhibits the triple metre typical of Spanish folk-music. Again, Torroba makes colourful use of woodwind and percussion in laying out Spanish rhythms reminiscent of the seguidillas, though his harmonic idiom is very modern. The guitar soon answers with its distinctively folkloric theme; in fact solo guitar passages dominate this movement, though occasional interjections from the orchestra continue the impression of a dialogue. An atmospheric Andante precedes the finale. This captivating essay is an arrangement of Romance de los pinos, a solo composed for Segovia in the 1950s. A dreamy, meditative mood prevails, and everything about the writing suggests a true romance of the pines. The movement is basically a series of variations on this number.

The lighthearted Allegro wastes no time shifting into high gear, with its rocketing scales in the winds and syncopated punctuations in the strings. There is a strongly flamenco character to the music, and the digital pyrotechnics this movement demands of the soloist constitute the supreme test of a guitarist’s agility.

Aires de La Mancha (1966)

Correspondence between Torroba and Segovia from 1963 refers to a work “sobre ambiente manchego” (with the ambience of La Mancha), which Segovia had apparently requested from the composer. The result of this collaboration was Aires de La Mancha (Airs of La Mancha), published in 1966. This work consists of a series of short, evocative pieces clearly inspired by the Castilian folklore of La Mancha, in central Spain. The first movement, Jeringonza, refers to a language game popular among children in Spain and Latin America. It involves adding the letter p after each vowel in a word, and then repeating the vowel. For example, Carlos turns into Cápar-lopos. The playful character of this movement suggests something of the tongue-twisting lightheartedness of the game. Ya llega el invierno (Winter is already arriving) is a melancholy song that receives an appropriately introspective setting here. Coplilla, or very little copla (song or song verse), is one of the shortest pieces Torroba ever composed, lasting about a minute. Yet, in that short time he succeeds in capturing the melodic essence of his subject. The equally songlike La Pastora is inspired by Torroba’s affection and admiration for the novel Don Quixote by Cervantes, specifically the Pastoral Episode of the shepherdess, Marcela, who was painfully in love. The suite ends with a Seguidilla, a lively song and dance in triple meter that Torroba evoked time and again in his works for the stage and the guitar.

Suite castellana (c. 1920)

The Suite castellana contains Torroba’s first-ever composition for the guitar, the Danza; he composed the Fandanguillo and Arada afterwards and then combined them into a Castilian suite. This was composed about 1920 for Andrés Segovia, who gave the première, published, and recorded it. The Fandanguillo is marked Allegro, tempo di Fandango. A fandanguillo is a variant of the fandango, and like so many Spanish songs and dances, it alternates sections in which either dancing or singing (copla) predominates. A striking feature of this piece is that it starts out presenting a very brief copla melody. This is followed by a lively A section, which soon yields to a lyrical B section elaborating on the copla idea presented as an introduction. A repeat of the A section brings this little masterpiece to a close.

An arada is traditionally a work song associated with plowing fields. Arada is also in ABA form, and the relatively expansive middle section makes imaginative use of natural and artificial harmonics, as well as striking exploration of the instrument’s potential for chromaticism and modulation. The Danza is marked Vivo, and the A section evinces a lively triple metre, while the brief B section features a lovely copla-like passage, marked Lento espressivo. A verbatim restatement of the A section serves as the suite’s vivacious finale.

Walter Aaron Clark, University of California, Riverside
William Craig Krause, Hollins University
Authors of Federico Moreno Torroba: A Musical Life in Three Acts (Oxford, 2013)

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