Less familiar than the Concierto de Aranjuez, which in 1940 established the blind Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) as the most acclaimed Spanish contemporary composer, a position maintained for the last sixty years of his long life, the Concierto Madrigal (1968) takes the form of 10 variation movements on Arcadelt's 'O felici occhi', and will appeal to everyone who enjoys, say, Respighi's refurbishment of Ancient Airs & Dances.
Since hailing the Katona Twins as 'a single guitar played with twenty fingers' at their triumphant 1997 Park Lane Group concert, I have followed and admired the uncanny precision of their ensemble and the subtlety of virtuosity. This is well in evidence in the arrangements for two guitars they have made of Rodrigo piano pieces, inspired by guitar idioms, a 'curiously circular rebirth of the composer's first intentions' (Peter & Zoltan Katona). Of these tonadillas (little tunes) the most notable are the Songs of Farewell (1935) in memory of Dukas, more adventurous harmonically than some of the others, and The Grand March of the Subsecretaties (1941), a satirical lampoon of disorganised bureaucracy in the new Franco regime. These transcriptions have been endorsed by the Rodrigo family, which is 'generally not inclined to accept arrangements', and the whole CD will deserve its likely success.
The piquant, vividly colouristic orchestration of the concerto is well presented by the Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra, recorded in Der Doelen, the concert hall which is a pride of Rotterdam. My only personal reservation, which will trouble few purchasers, is that I would favour a more natural balance than C. Jared Sacks provides, one recognising that the guitar is a quiet instrument, as we have become accustomed to, for example, when hearing fortepiano performances of Mozart's piano concertos, which draw you in rather than throwing every note out at you. But complaining about excessive spotlighting of concerto soloists, to my ears a bane of so many modern recordings, is by now, with only a minority of collectors attending live concerts, a lost cause. It will be interesting to discover whether the 'superaudio/multichannel' version of this CD, scheduled for release this autumn - with presumed superior separation possibility - will be balanced differently?
Peter Grahame Woolf