Spanish Classics - Guridi: Ten Basque Melodies, Etc
Así cantan los chicos (So the boys sing), is a beautifully imagined work for orchestra and children’s choir that’s “based on Spanish children’s folklore” and employs parts of popular songs among its many memorable themes. The last five or so minutes of this 13-plus-minute piece is an expertly crafted interaction between two choruses (with intermittent interjections by a soloist) that’s reminiscent of some of Benjamin Britten’s similar (if far more clever and sophisticated) conceptions.
Which brings up the point that, interesting and inventive as these works are, it’s impossible to listen to any one of them without being reminded of other composers, from Grieg to Sibelius to Delius to Strauss. Guridi's Don Quixote builds in a Sibelian manner, then briefly tosses some Strauss-like fireworks before returning to a calmer, moodier temper before another burst of Straussian brass flourishes and leaping winds--and so it goes, cramming as many dramatic “scenes” as possible into 11 minutes. It’s actually pretty well done, with especially effective brass and string writing--a definite audience-pleaser for its relentless energy, evocative scene-painting, and roaring, brass-and-timpani-led climax.
The symphonic poem En un barco fenicio (In a Phoenician Vessel) again takes its lead from Sibelius, with effects such as swirling upper strings above grumbling, rumbling low-register instruments, punctuations by brass and winds, and several gradual crescendos that build to powerful (if brief) full-orchestra statements. Although it would help to have more information on just what this “poem” is about, musically speaking the thematic picture at least is finely and colorfully drawn, with--as in the Don Quixote--a logical and captivating flow from one episode to the next, with no let-up in energy or imaginative scoring.
The disc ends with the beautiful little song Canta el gallo tempranero (The early cock is crowing), which is very nicely sung by soprano Isabel Álvarez. Although this may seem rather anticlimactic after the preceding orchestral theatrics, it actually proves a perfect way to wind down, with Álvarez's genial expressive style enhancing and lending an effective personal touch to the song's decidedly Spanish character.
The orchestra obviously knows and cares about this music--and demonstrates a high standard of technical expertise and interpretive flair, led by Juan José Mena with impressive facility and a keen sense of his orchestra's limits. And while Guridi was no Debussy, his orchestrations are not at all shabby--in fact, they're only rarely over-written or cumbersome (as in the "Danza" from Ten Basque melodies). For the most part, this is a terrific and thoroughly entertaining program, a welcome discovery and one of the standouts in Naxos' "Spanish Classics" series. The sound, from the Euskalduna Concert Hall in Bilbao, Spain, is appropriately bright, decently detailed, and well-balanced across the orchestra--with special mention to the brass, which provides some of the program's most thrilling moments.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: 8557110
Composer: Jesus Guridi
Conductor: Juan José Mena
Orchestra/Ensemble: Bilbao Choral Society, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra
Performer: Isabel Alvarez