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American Record Guide, June 2008

Leopoldo de Urcullu is hardly a household name. Almost nothing is known of his life, including birth and death dates, though we can presume from publications of his music that he flourished between 1830 and 1843. Almost the only reference known outside of his music (preserved in the library of Domingo Prat—the source for these pieces) is a poem by Florencio Gomez Parreño that describes “the eloquent and ill-fated Urcullu” and places him along with Sor and Aguado as the greatest Spanish guitarists of the age.

What a fascinating discovery! Urcullu has a distinct personality, falling stylistically somewhere between Giuliani (or Aguado) and Coste. Enough of his music survives to fill an hour here, though there’s no indication that any more exists. Like Giuliani, he seems best when someone else has supplied the melodies, and the operatic variations from Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini are the most attractive works here. The music is less inclined to virtuoso display that Giuliani’s, though there is plenty of that. He seems more interested in exploring the expressive than the extravagant. Though less harmonically or contrapuntally bold than Coste or Mertz would be, he is still a few decades beyond Aguado or Giuliani.

Eugenio Tobalina plays magnificently. He has an unfailingly beautiful tone, solid technical control, and an imaginative range of timbre. His phrasing shows that he knows the bel canto models this music arises from. He has something of a history of championing forgotten music, and he has done the guitar world a great favor with this recording.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, February 2008

Another newcomer to my collection of off-the-beaten-track composers, Urucullu is a mysterious figure about whom virtually nothing is known, not even his vital statistics. The music of this Spanish guitarist-composer bespeaks a creative mind working within accepted formats, yet is freshly original. Maestro Tobalina is to be congratulated for both his discovery and outstanding performance of this rare and unusually captivating music.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, February 2008

Urcullu (sometimes the name appears as Urcullo) is one of the mystery men of the Spanish guitar tradition. Almost nothing is known about his life – not even approximate dates for his birth and death. A few nineteenth century documents offer tantalising hints as to the man and his music. His name appears in a volume published in Madrid in 1834, the Catálogo General de la Música Impresa y Publicada en Madrid. In 1843 a poem by one Florencio Gómez Parreño was published in a music journal entitled El Anfión Matritense; in it Urcullu is described as “ill-fated” and his music is said to be akin to that of Fernando Sor and Dioniso Aguado. The epithet “ill-fated” perhaps implies a youthful death before the date (1843) of the poem? Given that he makes use of themes from Donizetti’s Belisario, premiered in 1836, he presumably died after that but before Parreño’s poem was published in 1843. I am indebted to Eugenio Tobalina’s booklet notes for this information.

Urculu’s music – on the evidence of this CD – is well-made and belongs very much to the same family, musically speaking, as the work of Sor. Urcullu seems to have been particularly fond of what are, compared to the usual repertoire for the instrument at this time, more than usually extended compositions. It has to be said that sometimes he over extends himself and runs out of worthwhile ideas. But sometimes – as in La Amistad (Friendship), which opens the CD – one is grateful for the opportunity to hear ideas worked out fully and for the creation of larger patterns and structures than are often possible within the idiom of the guitar miniature.

Like many another guitarist of the period - and not, of course, guitarists only – Urcullu was evidently fond of the operatic paraphrase or set of variations – melodies by Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini are drawn on here and the results are pleasant and civilised, if perhaps relatively passionless.

The back cover of the disc speaks of its containing some “extraordinary music”. That, I think, rather oversells it. It is accomplished, sophisticated music, written within a fairly well-established tradition and to those familiar with that tradition these compositions are unlikely to offer any of the kinds of shocks implied by the adjective “extraordinary”.

What is extraordinary is that Urcullu should have slipped so thoroughly from the memory and knowledge of the musical public and that his music should be so little known. It is full of attractive touches and winning details and Urcullu’s use of variation form is generally both inventive and satisfying.

Not for the first time, we should be grateful to Naxos for making available to us such out of the way repertoire. Tobalina plays the music with obvious sympathy and understanding, playing with the kind of lucidity that helps to clarify the workings of Urcullu’s variations; he proves to be an excellent guide into this unfamiliar territory. The close-up recording will perhaps be a bit too close-up for some tastes.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2008

I am not conscious of ever having heard a note of music from the guitarist-composer, Leopoldo de Urcullu, a Spaniard who lived through the early part of the 19th century, his music the only reason that we know of his existence. That period would place him as a contemporary to Fernando Sor, the style of the two composers being very similar, Urcullu using the popular device of that era of using thematic material from popular operas as the basis for his variations. Donizetti’s Belisario and L’esule di Roma, Rossini’s Guglielmo Tell, Bellini’s Il pirata and La straniera all undergo Urcullu’s makeover and points to the composer having been an exceptionally gifted performer. That the disc contains just seven tracks points to scores that are more extensive than much guitar music composed at the time, the introduction and polka, La Amistad, stopping not far short of a quarter of an hour. The drawback comes with Urcullu’s overused cliches, of which the throw away slides up the instrument litter the scores, and become irritating in the Introduction, variaciones y coda, La Queja. The disc is performed by the Spanish guitarist, Eugenio Tobalina, a well-know recitalist who has been instrumental in the discovery of the long neglected 19th century guitar composers. If he does not make light of the more exacting moments, it does add to the sense of the massive challenge the music presents. In such moments his playing remains lucid, the works shaped with imagination, innate musicianship and unfailingly true intonation. Maybe of greater interest to guitarists than the general record buyer, we still owe Tobalina a debt of gratitude for making Urcullu’s music available. Close-up recording that captures left hand slides but is very likeable.

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