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Fanfare, July 2005

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Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, January 2005

"Rodolfo Halffter is the oldest member of a Spanish family of musicians of Prussian origin. His brother Ernesto (1905 – 1989) is probably best known for having completed de Falla’s La Atlantida whereas his nephew Cristóbal (born 1930) is one of the most important composers of his generation. A number of Rodolfo Halffter’s works are already available on disc, mainly thanks to the ASV-Batiz Mexican series released several years ago that explored a good deal of unfamiliar stuff; but this may be one of the rare releases entirely devoted to his orchestral music (and, what is more, this seems to be Volume 1). Interestingly enough, this release presents works spanning his entire composing career, from Obertura concertante Op.5 (his first published score) to one of his latest pieces, Paquiliztli Op.46 completed in 1983. So, this first volume provides for a fair introduction to his music, often and fairly consistently by de Falla as well as Stravinsky.

So, the earliest work here is the sparkling Obertura concertante Op.5 which, true to its title, includes an important piano part. The music is clearly influenced by de Falla and – most importantly – neo-classical Stravinsky. It is thus not surprising that the music also often nods towards Poulenc, for whom Stravinsky’s influence was also quite important. Much of Halffter’s later music will go along the same lines, and remain globally neo-classical in outlook, i.e. characterised by clear melodic lines, crisp rhythms and piquant harmonies sometimes causing some mild dissonance. All these characteristics are clearly heard in the other pieces in this selection. The suite from the ballet Don Lindo de Almería Op.7, on a libretto by José Bergamín, however is somewhat different in that it is scored for strings and percussion, so that the music displays some comparative austerity and harmonic stringency, although it overflows with an almost inexhaustible melodic fund, which – in this particular work – pays some tribute to the composers of the so-called Golden Age of Spanish music.

On the other hand, the score for Halffter’s second collaboration with José Bergamín, La madrugada del panadero Op.12 ("The Baker’s Morning") completed in 1940, is clearly modelled on de Falla’s magnificent El sombrero de tres picos, without slavishly imitating the older master’s music. It again is full of attractive and colourful ideas expertly wrapped in some piquantly scored Neo-classicism.

The Obertura festiva Op.21, too, is redolent of Poulenc (e.g. his Sinfonietta or some of his lighter orchestral scores). The music moves on with jollity and alacrity in a nicely colourful way.

The most recent piece dates from the composer’s last years, but is not markedly different from the earlier works, were it not for its somewhat unusual scoring. Paquiliztli Op.46 is scored for seven percussionists; but it is on the whole fairly simple and straightforward. Nothing here as forward-looking as similar pieces by Varèse or by Chavez. We are not told much about the piece and its obviously Mexican title; but the global impression is rather of a march of some sort than of an ancient pagan ritual. No ground-breaking novelty, thus, but a quite enjoyable piece on its own right.

So, in short, colourful, attractive neo-classical scores lovingly played and neatly recorded. Fans of this composer’s music will need no further recommendation, and those who respond to the music of Rodrigo or Guridi will find much to enjoy here. A lovely disc."

Raymond Walker
MusicWeb International, December 2004

"To complement their de Falla series Naxos have issued this disc of music by a lesser known Spanish composer. Halffter was born in Madrid and later moved to Mexico. He lived at a time when Europe’s experimental new forms of composition were at their peak. As a self-taught composer he had leanings towards de Falla (and Schoenberg probably), but The Three Cornered Hat couldn’t be further from my mind whilst listening to this disc.

The CD notes, which are in English, Spanish and German, describe Hafftner as evolving a style of: ‘clear-cut rhythmic and tonal contrast enlivened by off-beat accents recalling Stravinsky ... and inflections after Milhaud.’

To me much of the music is ‘triangular’, without any reference to a Three Cornered Hat. I find the thematic material scant. It shows no clear development with sections bolted together. Perhaps this is music more reminiscent of a cartoon soundtrack which only has proper meaning when accompanied by visuals. In fact the ballets may well be completely in place when heard in the context of the stage performances for which they were intended. Without a visual stimulus I find the material difficult to enjoy. The booklet surprisingly gives little clue to the nature of the plots of the two ballets within its meagre two page spread on the composer and his works. The additional pieces found on the disc were never related to visual material and are consequently even less assimilated.

The percussive opening piece, Paquiliztli would seem better placed as a later track as most of the others are better suited to serve as an opening track to ‘set the scene’. The small orchestra performs admirably, but the texture is thin by lack of integration of the instrumental sections in the compositions. This may well be deliberate, but sadly it gives little for the listener to get enthused over."

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