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Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, June 2006

"A real pleasure to welcome this first recording. As long ago as 1998 in one of my first reviews (Claves Guridi orchestral collection) for the site I recommended this work for recording and now here it is on the world’s most inexpensive label.

Guridi wrote his Sinfonía Pirenaica in 1945 and it was premiered in 1946 by the very same orchestra, then conducted by Jesús Arámbarri.

The work’s three movements can be thought of as three days in the mountains. The portrayal is achieved through music that has a Slav caste both ecclesiastical and dancing. Indeed the Symphony is influenced by the inspirational voice that runs from Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin via Biarent and d’Indy. If Rimsky’s Russian Easter Festival might be somewhere in the ‘weave’ then so is the sighing awesome mystery of the world’s high places. Delius (Song of the High Hills), Karlowicz (Eternal Songs) and Novák (In the Tatras) all quarried a similar vein. While those three composers distilled their psyche into nature poems no longer than thirty minutes each, Guridi allowed himself more space. His approach is rhapsodic and discursive and accommodates a greater variety of mood including vigorous tambourine-punctuated dancing (tr. 1 16:30). At 13:20 (tr. 1) a major and memorable melody appears, part-Elgarian in its nobility but with a Franckian sensuousness as in Psyché. Towards the end of the movement there is a Baxian determination about the writing which recalls his Northern Ballad No. 1.

The second movement is just as varied but with textures thinned and more space for solo instrumental gestures of Ravel-like delicacy. Even so this is not a conventional central andante. The moods are almost as varied as in the first movement. These rise to a Sibelian tempest at 11:20. The finale is exuberant with furious squalls coming and going in these high realms. Then again Guridi can be playful: at 7:43 there is a sanguine Nielsen-like surge with harp notes neatly captured in the foreground of a massive climax. Bombast gets a look-in for a moment at 10:20 but for the most part Guridi sustains a grandeur that harks back to the first movement.

The Espatadanza is taken directly from Marco Polo’s complete recording of the opera Amaya.

The Bilbao orchestra are in very good form; certainly much better fettle than for their recording of Isasi’s Second Symphony on Naxos 8.557584. I see that four session days were allowed. The investment of time has paid off. Orchestra and conductor revel in the fantasy of this rhapsodic work.

This is an extremely attractive complement to the earlier Guridi Naxos collection."

Fanfare, September 2005

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Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, June 2005

The "Sinfonia pirenaica" by the very gifted, Basque composer Jesus Guridi is the Spanish counterpart of Richard Strauss's "Alpine Symphony," and a wonderful discovery. Similar in concept to the Strauss it's a very colorful, programmatic representation of the Pyrenees range, which separates France from Spain. Like his nationalistic opera "Amaya," its catchy melodies utilize the same modes that are found in the folk music of his homeland. It's set in three movements with the outer ones being soaring impressions of those mountains. The central one is quite rustic sounding and probably a musical tableau of life in a village tucked away in some valley among them. The program ends with the sprightly "Sword Dance" from "Amaya." Both the performances and sound are excellent. If you like this music, by all means try Guridi's highly acclaimed string quartets and his orchestral suite based on ten Basque melodies.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, May 2005

"Guridi’s Sinfonía pirenaica was written in 1945 and premiered by this orchestra. It’s a loquaciously colourful work teeming with textual incident and density and a three-movement symphony of great character and imagination. The opening Andante sostenuto is actually quite deceptive; the level of impressionism evoked here is not one greatly sustained throughout but instead leads to fresh air and plenty of incident, rich in folkloric dash. These are tinged with baroque varnishings and plenty of detailing from the winds and especially from the bassoon. There are Straussian and Elgarian parallels (I was reminded of the latter’s Falstaff more than once) but the over arching parallel I suppose – and unavoidably – is with Vaughan Williams. Little ceremonial brass calls course throughout as do processionals and there’s a strong sense of celebration and sheer warmth – as we find in the skirl of the orchestration as the first movement makes its final ascent at the end.

Dance is another major component, as is encountered in the bipartite second movement – a Presto leading to an Andante sostenuto – very attractively orchestrated and winningly performed by the expert band and their excellent conductor Juan José Mena. There is a particularly expressive moment when the viola theme enters, which it does with the serene force of a hymnal – unexpected and very beautiful – though it’s soon followed by some tensile and ominous writing. The finale is briskly rhythmic, lush, vibrant and full of some big, bold and very attractive moments. I have to say I found this slightly diffuse for all its clear charms, that the climaxes reappeared here and elsewhere with a degree of regularity that sometimes imperilled the structure. I think one can hardly but feel that there are some repetitious moments along the mountain journey. And that, finally, renders the work problematic. But I wouldn’t suggest you pass by; there’s plenty of luscious melody and evocative writing to be encountered and this is certainly a work more talked about than heard. Here’s a fine chance to put right that injustice. The performance certainly makes the best case for it.

There’s a small extra item – the exciting Sword Dance (all three minutes of it) from Amaya. This is extracted from the complete work on Marco Polo 8.225084-85 and recorded back in 1997."

David Hurwitz, April 2005

If you like Vaughan Williams' A London Symphony then you're going to just love Guridi's Sinfonía pirenaica ("Pyrenees Symphony"), as robust and colorful a tribute to the Basque country as is the English composer's homage to his most beloved city. Although clearly a somewhat later work stylistically (it was composed in the mid-1940s), you will find a similar mix of modal, folk-like melodies and impressionistic tone-painting. Guridi works on an epic scale here: the piece has three large movements and lasts about 50 minutes. There is no formal slow movement, but plenty of slow music is spread around the other parts, and while it might be a stretch to say that the work is closely argued formally, it is quite effectively shaped, never meanders, and the tunes are beautifully scored and obstinately memorable. In short, the symphony deserves to become a popular work in the Romantic nationalist tradition.

Happily, this performance is outstanding.The Bilbao Symphony premiered the work in 1945, and while I have no idea how familiar the orchestra has remained with the music since that time, the playing here is full of confidence and affection. The solo winds in particular do a lovely job phrasing their often rustic melodies with consistent charm and imagination, and the brass section, which on prior outings has sounded overtaxed, manages a full, rich ensemble sonority that captures the imaginative sweep of Guridi's numerous climaxes. Conductor Juan José Mena seems to know exactly when to push forward and when it's safe to stop and enjoy Guridi's musical scenery. His interpretation is poetic and exciting by turns. Naxos' engineers also deliver very natural sonics, with plenty of bass, atmosphere, warmth, and clarity. The Sword Dance from the opera Amaya (previously recorded and released on Marco Polo) makes a fun if unnecessary encore. Certainly this is one of the most impressive and important releases in Naxos' Spanish Classics series, and I couldn't recommend it more highly.

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