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Ian Bailey
MusicWeb International, April 2008

Having been very favourably impressed recently with a disc of Spanish and Spanish-influenced music from Deutsche Grammophon, here is another excellent example from Naxos, using substantially the same musicians in a nearby venue. It was recorded only 2-3 weeks after the premium priced disc.

The present issue is however perhaps even more interesting and valuable since it contains no cod Spanishry but only the genuine article. All the composers are natives, two indeed are still with us.

By far the best known of the five is the creator of the first work on the disc, Joaquín Rodrigo. Premiered in April 1948, “Ausencias de Dulcinea” won first prize in a competition to mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of Cervantes, and was performed at the end of the year-long celebrations. Unusually it is a symphonic poem with parts for baritone and four sopranos.

After an arresting “wide-screen” opening of fanfare figures there emerges a most beautiful, wistful theme on the lower strings, punctuated by more vigorous sections, depicting the Don’s exploits or perhaps the struggles within his own mind (?). Rodrigo’s accompanying text is in three groups, sung by the baritone, with the sopranos interpolating toward the end of each stanza the phrase “Dulcinea del Toboso”. Rodrigo later remarked: “I saw that by setting four voices around that of Don Quixote I could establish contrasts between the chivalrous, the ideal and the burlesque. While the Don is deadly serious throughout, the orchestra provides comic touches and so the different facets of the poetry are captured..”

It’s a very affecting work; my notes were peppered with admiring comments. Lopez sings evenly, although not all the solo sopranos are quite together or on the note all the time (!)…but I didn’t find this distracting.

Jose Garcia Roman’s contribution is one of two rather more “modern” in cut. In his own words the composer is trying to convey: “…a way of expressing in music…the desire to see ride again all those heroes whose very madness might just offer hope to our rather disillusioned society.”

The idiom reminded me of Bartók, even with passing references to the Hungarian’s “insect music”. Pizzicato figures often alternate with bowed repetitive figures in the bass, with eerie high harmonics in the upper strings. If this sounds forbidding…it isn’t. In fact I felt the alternations, depicting, I suspect, the plodding of the Don’s donkey across the Spanish plains alternating with his frenzied imaginings, very imaginative. Later in the work (at about the 13 minute mark) there is a more lyrical section featuring the solo violin – perhaps the Don musing on his state of affairs?

Barbieri’s music meanwhile comes from a different age, and it shows. The ballet has a delightful Offenbachian feel to it, whilst the chorus reminded me of the sort of works the likes of Méhul or Le Sueur would have produced for a Napoleonic occasion.

Jorge Guerra’s work provides a further link - apart from the performers and the recording chronology - with DG’s offering. There Carlos Alvarez performed songs written by Jacques Ibert, consisting of settings by Pierre de Ronsart and Alexandre Arnoux, which form part of a 1932 score for a film about Cervantes’ hero. Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, the film features Fyodor Chaliapin, no less, who both played Quixote and sang the songs for the soundtrack.

Tres momentos de Don Quichotte” meanwhile, composed in late 2004 and early 2005, is a suite drawn from a much longer score newly commissioned to accompany the same film. Although the composer explains the three movements were selected because they made greater sense as an independent entity, he does not rule out a “proper” suite being assembled in the future.

Finally the disc is completed by Gerardo Gombau’s tone poem. More obviously “attractive” perhaps than the Guerra, it reminded me of Korngold or Arnell in film-score mode, and was none the worse for that.

Since it is virtually impossible in UK concert halls to encounter music such as this - even Rodrigo’s outings tend to be limited to two or three very popular scores - discs like this are a godsend. There is a great deal of attractive and interesting music here which deserves a wider audience … indeed I found the Rodrigo very affecting and I can imagine returning to this often. Performances meanwhile are well up to the standard of the DG issue, although the recording location isn’t quite so yielding. The orchestra here appears closer in focus than on the earlier disc, with the sound appreciably drier and more immediate. Texts and translations are included.

All in all a very enthusiastic welcome and a fascinating companion disc to DG’s “Quijotes”. Go and buy!

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, September 2007

Performances and sound quality are terrific on these new issues from Madrid… The orchestra, while not the slickest virtuoso body in existence, knows how this music should sound. Conductor José Ramón Encinar keeps everything moving and balances the textures cleanly. Attack is gutsy when needed. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, June 2007

Cervantes’ great novel is full of music. The shepherd Antonio sings a verse romance, accompanying himself on the rebeck; Cardenio sings a beautiful love song; Altisidora sings a love song to the accompaniment of the harp; and there are many others too. Don Quixote himself sings a song in reply to Altisidora, accompanying himself on the lute, in a “hoarse but not unmusical voice” (a performance which is brought to an end when a sack full of cats, with bells on their tails, is released from the room above!).

There is a fascinating passage in which Don Quixote considers the attractions of the pastoral life:

"What a life we shall lead, friend Sancho! What a world of bagpipes shall we hear! What pipes of Zamora! What tambourets! What tabors! And what rebecks! And, if to all these different musics be added the albogues, we shall have almost all the pastoral instruments."

(Responding to Sancho’s enquiry, Quixote explains that ‘albogues’ are, in effect, cymbals, the name being, he explains, Moorish).

Jordi Savall, a couple of years ago, put together a marvellous 2 CD set, Don Quijote de la Mancha: Romances y Músicas (Alia Vox ASVA 984 3A+B), combining readings from the book with music of the time.

Later composers and musicians have not been slow to pay their tribute to – or simply to exploit – the novel. Operas based on Don Quixote, or episodes from it, abound. They include such eighteenth century works as Antonio Caldara’s Sancio Panza (1733), Telemann’s Don Quichotte der Löwenritter (1761), Salieri’s Don Chisciotte alle Nozze di Gamace (1770) and Dittersdorf’s Don Quixote der Zweyte (1779); nineteenth century works include Mercadante’s Don Chisciotte (1829) and Wilhelm Kienzl’s Don Quixote (1898); in modern times the list includes Massenet’s Don Quichotte (1910) and de Falla’s El Retablo de Maese Pedro (1923). If one added to all the operas, the musicals, the song settings (such as those by Ibert and Ravel), the orchestral works (eg. by Rubinstein, Strauss and Guridi) and the list would be very long indeed. Now, on this enterprising disc from Naxos we have the chance to get to know some Cervantes responses by five Spanish composers – a chance well worth taking, even if the music is variable in quality as well as stylistic predisposition.

The earliest piece here, Barbieri’s Don Quijote, was written for a commemoration of Cervantes in 1861 and was a contribution to a play written for the event by Ventura de la Vega. Its three short parts are made up of an attractively melodic setting for tenor and orchestra of the first stanza of some verses sung by Cardenio in Chapter 27 of Part I of Don Quixote; a bailete for orchestra, colourfully orchestrated; and a rather ponderous closing section for tenor, chorus and orchestra which is a hymn of praise to Cervantes himself (the booklet notes provide texts and translations of the words for the first and third sections). This is pleasant music, very much of its period, worth the hearing.

We jump to 1945 for Gombau’s symphonic poem Don Quijote velando las armas (Don Quixote keeps vigil over his armour), is a stirring piece which is clearly in line of descent from Richard Strauss; grandeur (with touches of irony) alternates with tenderness. Since the booklet notes tell us that the piece is “programmatic in nature [and] sets out to portray specific episodes from the novel” it would have been nice to have been told what these were. Still, even without that information, this is an entertaining and musically rewarding work, one of the definite positives of this disc. It would be good to hear more of Gombau’s music.

Written just a year or two after Gombau’s work, Rodrigo’s Ausencias de Dulcinea (The Absence of Dulcinea) is a striking piece which contrives both to laugh at Don Quxote’s absurdity as a would-be lover of Dulcinea del Toboso and to register a certain compassion for his sufferings, so that, as in the novel itself, Quixote emerges with a kind of absurd dignity. Using the unusual forces of a bass/baritone soloist (here the excellent José Antonio López) and a chorus of four sopranos, with full orchestra, the work sets verses written in the sand by Quixote in Chapter 26 of Part I of the novel. The orchestral writing is colourful, the interplay of male voice with soprano chorus intriguing. A work definitely demanding – and rewarding – a good number of rehearings.

An altogether more modern soundworld is inhabited by José Garcia Román’s La resurrección de Don Quijote, written for string orchestra to a commission from the Orquesta y Coro Nacionales de Espana. A study in textures, characterised by insistent rhythmic patterns and some odd timbres, the work has some arresting passages but struggles to be more than the sum of its parts, for all its creation of a rather dreamlike mood.

Jorge Fernández Guerra’s Tres momentos de Don Quichotte was written to accompany a showing of Pabst’s 1933 film Don Quichotte. What we are offered here is three from twenty numbers written to accompany the film. They are entitled ‘Don Quixote’s first sally’, a moody adagio of suitably nocturnal ambience; ‘Attack on the windmills’, with evocations of Quixote on horseback; and ‘Don Quixote is reborn from the ashes’, of which the composer writes that it accompanies the epilogue to the film “which shows the burning of the book in reverse, a rebirth from the ashes”. Fernandez Guerra’s music is well made, but rather uniform in tempo and dynamics, so that it struggles to hold the listener’s interest throughout (it is the longest work on the disc) without the filmic images it was written to complement.

The works by Rodrigo and Gombau are particularly worth getting to know, but there is nothing here that doesn’t offer rewards of some sort. The work of the soloists, chorus and orchestra is exemplary, and Encinar shows that he deserves his growing reputation, on this well recorded disc.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2007

Music from five Spanish composers working in different stylistic eras and drawn together by picturing events from Cervantes’s literary masterpiece, Don Quijote de la Mancha. The earliest dates from 1861 with Francesco Barbieri's three short musical interludes provided for a three-act play, the two outer sections including a tenor solo. Pleasing no doubt in its original context. More substance comes in the 1945 prize winning entry for the Madrid Conservatory Composition contest from Gerardo Gombau. A short tone poem that recognises its inspirational debt to Richard Strauss, the music distinctly from the post-Romantic era with a suitable degree of Quixote bombast. It was to mark the 400th anniversary of Cervantes that Rodrigo offered the vocal score, Ausencias de Dulcinea, the music atypical of the composer's better known scores, Hollywood seeming to have entered the scene in its colours and mood. To my ears it is the extended work by Jose Roman that offers the most interesting score. If we forget the story that inspired the music, it would still stand as a piece of intricate and fascinating sonorities that deserve to be wider known. Coming to the present we have three sections from Jorge Fernandez Guerra's music to accompany Pabst's 1933 film, Don Quichotte, Guerra just working on the borderline between tonality and atonality. The playing and singing is of the highest order and reminds us once again of the quality of today's Spanish orchestras. The engineering is exemplary. .

David Perkins
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), April 2007

Don Quixote, the great knight and tilter-at-windmills of Cervantes' 1605 novel, has a long history as a character in music. He has been a subject of operas by Caldara, a masque by Purcell, a ballet by Leon Minkus, song sets by Ravel and Ibert, a piano suite by Erich Korngold, a tone poem by Richard Strauss and a Broadway musical by Dale Wassermann and Mitch Leigh. Then there are the Spaniards.

Not that many of them, actually. Among Europeans, Spain came late to classical music and so was late to embrace Don Quixote as a subject. A new Naxos CD -- from its new Spanish Classics imprint -- consists almost entirely of late 20th-century works. Of these, Joacquin Rodrigo's "Ausencias de Dulcinea" (1948) is the most beautiful, an orchestral piece with bass soloist and a trio of women representing Dulcinea, singing temptingly like Rhinemaidens.

Also intriguing are the highlights from Jorge Ferrandez Guerra's 2005 score for G.W. Pabst's great 1933 movie, which featured the Russian bass Chaliapin and (originally) music by Ibert. The music is lyrical, playful and oddly evocative of Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring." Other pieces include the "Resurrection of Don Quixote" (1994) for string orchestra by Jose Garc'a Román and "Don Quixote holding vigil over his armour" (1947), a bombastic affair by Gerardo Gombau Guerra.

The one 19th-century work is by Francisco Asenjo Barbieri, who wrote solos for the play commissioned by the city of Madrid in 1861. They include a tenor solo and chorus highly reminiscent of Verdi, plus a ballet that could be, at different times, Rossini and Minkus. This piece is bland but nevertheless important: It kicked off the tradition of Don Quixote revivals and re-creations in Spain.

Little on this CD is great music, but it shows the greatness of Cervantes' character, whose conscience never failed him and whose crazy imagination offers hope. Jose Ramon Racinar conducts the fine Chorus and Orchestra of Madrid.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group