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Basque Music Collection Volumes 12, 14 & 15
 
Beltràn PAGOLA (1878-1950)
Allegro Appassionato de la "Sonata sobre Motivos Vascos" (1918) [7:54]
Donosti!, Capricho Humorístico para Orquesta Sinfónica (1947) [8:10]
La Modista Soñaba, Capricho Sinfónico (1930) [6:30]
Sinfonía sobre Cantos Vascos (1919) [38:49]
Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa/Rubén Gimeno
rec. 2-6 Sept 2008, 18-20 May 2009, San Sebastian, Spain
Basque Music Collection Vol. XII
CLAVES CD 50-2906 [61:13]

Pedro SANJUÁN (1886-1976)
Castilla (1927) [33:40]
Liturgia Negra (1934) [29:20]
Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa/Andrés Orozco-Estrada
rec. Basque National Orchestra Concert Hall, San Sebastian, 13-17 Sept 2010, 9-11 August 2011
Basque Music Collection Vol. XIV
CLAVES CD 50-1109 [63:15] 

Valentín Ma ZUBIAURRE (1837-1914)
Symphony in E Major (1870) [41:57]
Don Fernando El Emplazado - opera prelude [4:10]
Ledia - opera prelude [3:58]
Ecos de Oiz [6:35]
Roman Jablonski (cello)
Basque National Orchestra/Juan José Ocón
Basque Music Collection Vol. XIII
CLAVES CD 50-1012 [56:40] (not reviewed)

Carmelo BERNAOLA (1929-2002)

Fanfarria - Preludio (1995) [5:40]
Piezas Caprichosas for Violin and Orchestra (1997) [24:37]  
Sinfonía No. 2 (1980) [16:58]
Fantasias (2001) [15:45]
Leticia Morena (violin)
Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa/Juanjo Mena
rec. Basque National Orchestra Concert Hall, San Sebastian, 29 Aug-1 Sept 2012
Basque Music Collection Vol. XV
CLAVES CD 50-1214 [63:00]

This group of three reviews part-celebrates a glorious project and part bewails its completion. I have added in its correct numerical place what amounts to an extended heading for another CD not yet heard by me (Volume 13).
 
Claves’ Basque journey began in 1998 with the first disc (Guridi) and ended with the last (Bernaola) which was issued early in 2013.
 
Each disc has taken a single Basque composer and presented a selection of that composer’s orchestral works. There are bound to have been composers whose music failed to attract the accolade of an entry in the series but the end result amounts to an encyclopedia of Basque orchestral composition during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. An encyclopedia it may be but what is heard is not dusty. The recordings are vivid and the performances in the flower of the Basque concert venues have been lit with the lively engagement of musicians who in many cases will never previously have encountered this music. The recording session diary for each volume appears to have been generous, allowing the musicians to get under the skin of music that will often have been unfamiliar to them.
 
This has been done with the Basque country’s own musicians and in flamboyant style. Each disc booklet has a distinctive look and feel and as to content this has been by music scholars who also have the ability to communicate; essential when, as I suspect, some of these composers are little known, even among their own countrymen let alone beyond the Iberian peninsula. The essays are given in Basque, Spanish, French, German and English. This is very much an outward looking series that speaks to musicians, music enthusiasts and audiences at large: here is a whole library of music with much to offer both in quantity and variety.
 
The series would never have left the ground without the vision and support of Swiss label, Claves’ founder Marguerite Dütschler-Huber (1931-2006) and the enlightened funding provided by the Basque Government Department of Culture and the Mondragon Corporation.
 
As to the music, it is as varied as you might expect spanning as it does some two centuries. We move from classical era to romantic to nationalist to contemporary. The results can be charted through this feature and the reviews of earlier volumes (links listed at the end) which have studded the fifteen years of MusicWeb International’s existence since 1998.
 
In that time there have been other pioneering discs in the field of Basque music - largely from Naxos (try searching against ‘Guridi’ and ‘Isasi’) but also courtesy of Marco Polo and even EMI. Otherwise Basque music releases are few and far between.  
 
Volume 12 - Pagola 
Pagola left an indelible mark on the San Sebastián Conservatory, where he was a pillar of the teaching and learning community for five decades. He founded the Conservatory’s orchestra and wrote a ‘Traité pratique d’harmonie’, an academic text which apparently is still used to this day.
 
The music on this disc spans some thirty years of Pagola’s creative activity. We start with three compact overture-sized pieces.
 
The first of these is the Allegro Appassionato de la "Sonata sobre Motivos Vascos" (1918) which was orchestrated by Pagola’s pupil, Escudero, already honoured with an earlier album in this series (CD 50-2110/11). The emphasis here is on Appassionato. Much of this piece boils and heaves in heroic turmoil - rather like the uprush of the early Szymanowski Concert Overture or the first movement of Enescu’s First Symphony. Contrast this element with moments that are more gently lyrical - even Ravel-like.
 
Donosti! Capricho Humorístico is more relaxed: a quiet and mysterious processional but with a vaguely sinister feel as if on the way to a witches’ Sabbath. This is relieved by a dancing balletic whirl of an episode cut from the finest Tchaikovskian cloth. The sheen dulls with some turgid fugal pages but all’s well that ends well when we get to the last pages - a sort of Nutcracker mirliton.

Finally in this sequence we have La Modista Soñaba , Capricho Sinfónico with its flighty caprice and shimmer. Trace elements of Ravel keep surfacing mixed with Hispanic mists.
 
After three easily assimilated orchestral miniatures comes the Sinfonía sobre Cantos Vascos. It is in fact more in the nature of a suite; the movement titles give the game away. The overall effect parallels that of Holst’s Cotswold Symphony. The Primer Tiempo (I) is awkward and garrulous rather like the spontaneous rhapsodising of early Holst but not quite so jolly. Things are not helped by a fugue in the middle of the movement. The second movement is a Nocturno - poised and airily magical. Then follows the Intermezzo with its smooth warm strings carrying an innocent theme that yet develops an upwelling of passion. The finale resorts to a jolly Beethovenian dancing. It reminded me of the fold dances of Portuguese composers de Freitas Branco and Braga-Santos. Once again we experience music that pursues a circumbendibus rather than a determined purposeful trajectory.
 
There we have it: a symphony that feels more like a pictorial suite and three shorter pieces, two of them with a dash of symphonic gravitas.  
 
Volume 13 - Zubiaurre
This is more in the nature of a place-holder until I am able to review the CD which has not arrived from Claves as yet. 

Zubiaurre began his musical life as a chorister in Bilbao. 1852 saw him departing Spain for South America where he travelled widely and taught music. He returned in 1866 and in 1869 walked away with the Concours National de Musique for his opera Don Fernando el Emplazado. With a grant from the Académie des Beaux Arts he toured France, Italy and Germany in 1873. He became Second Kapellmeister of the Capella Real two years later and First Kapellmeister in 1878 positions he held in parallel with his academic activities at the Madrid Conservatory.  
 
Volume 14 - Sanjuán
The long-lived Pedro Sanjuán was not even a name to me before this disc. This violinist-composer was born in San Sebastián and became a conductor. In the turbulent 1920s he uprooted and emigrated to Cuba. There was a further move to the USA after about ten years. He died there. What we know of Sanjuán’s biography and music is down to the researches of Jorge de Persia. The composer speaks to us here through two large multi-movement works.
 
Castilla is in three movements the first of which (Panorama) starts in reflective vein then develops some fugal jollity which evaporates for a breathtakingly lovely moment at 4.04. It’s enough to make you forgive the fugal academicism. The second movement (En la llanura) has a prominently crooning saxophone over a rather nice orchestral shimmer. It’s the sort of glow you may have met at the opening of Bax’s Garden of Fand. This is poetic but the music develops greater energy later as well as treating us to some tellingly slow fanfares across a marine-scape. There’s a touch of Ravel’s Bolero about the saxophone melody. Altogether it’s a very strong piece. The Cantos de trilla (III) trades on the tension that develops when the devotional and the passionate meet. The almost Rimskian viola solo at 5.23 speaks of the sacred in contrast to the profane of the earlier movements. However, the music soon finds the profane again 7:23 and a moderately brisk dancing trumpet is echoed by various woodwind instruments. This leads the listener to an optimistic, oxygen-rich sea-scape with a great following wind, billowing sails and a majestic finale. Its weakness is that the composer travails with making an ending but suddenly decides that the time has come.
 
The five movements of Liturgia Negra are I. Chango; II. Iniciation; III. Babaluayé; IV. Canto à Oggun and V. Comparsa Lucumi. The first is a ritual dance, strong on awestruck atmosphere and with a touch of RVW’s Tallis Fantasia in the strings. It ends with a chuggy, awkward, peg-legged dance at 5.20. Iniciation picks up and continues the chuggy ostinato. It’s rhythmically ungainly but always interesting: a collage of components separated by dramatic gear-crashes. It’s something of a collision between like Honegger’s Pacific 231 and Russian modernism of the 1920s. Babaluayé (III) is an exotic Cuban dance while the following Canto à Oggun is a not-quite lullaby but almost - sort of Quiet City meets jungle rhythms. There’s a touch of Basque dancing woodwind at 3.13. Comparsa Lucumi brings the sequence to a heaving uproarious conga-style close. It’s a weird combination of anger and celebration.  
Unusual music with something about it to bring you back to listen again.

Volume 15 - Bernaola
Bernaola has the honour of being the subject of the final disc in Claves’ series dedicated to Basque music for orchestra.
 
He was born in Otxandio but his early music teaching was received in Burgos where was a clarinettist with a local band. He studied at the Madrid Conservatory and joined the Madrid City Band, again as a clarinettist. After securing the Prix de Rome he studied composition with Petrassi and conducting with Celibidache. After summer classes led by Maderna and Messiaen, where he met Boulez, Stockhausen and Nono, he moved back to Spain to complete his studies at Santiago de Compostela with Jolivet and Tansman. He has a substantial worklist, including three symphonies and many other orchestral works. He was also active in the field of commercial music but kept his works in that sphere separate from his ‘art music’. The music on this disc is from that latter category and was written between 1985 and 2001. It is as tough and contemporary as his teacher roll-call might suggest. 

Fanfarria was premiered in 2004 by the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bernaola’s pupil José Mena. Here we encounter a big orchestra used with restraint to articulate music packed with episodes and mood vignettes. There are more than a few times when the listener could be forgiven for thinking that the music was produced by some demented escapement clock: at one moment it’s Weill mixed with Lutosławski and at another there are stomping impacts like those heard in Stravinsky’s Rite. There are softer moments including a central romantic section and a sort of fiesta carnival at 3.45. The music ends strangely unfinished.
 
Onward to the much longer Piezas Caprichosas for violin and orchestra. This is a single-movement piece. It’s highly capricious and is heated with Paganinian caprice. It deploys every sweet, sliding and guttural trick in the book: kaleidoscopic, instinctive and with the feeling of spontaneity. A figure at 7:40 is repetitive and hypnotically insinuating - like a surreally unfolding landscape. The music ends with a tolling ostinato and railroad rhythms. It’s tough going but stirring and provocative.
 
Sinfonía No. 2 is the earliest piece here. It last just over fifteen minutes and is in four movements. It’s the toughest language on show here, moving between very quiet violins, heavy angularity from strings and glockenspiel and avian chatter. The third movement (Repetitivo) is wildly, indeed raucously, dissonant. You can sample this work on YouTube.
 
Fantasias (2001) is notable for its boiling and seething distant strings creating the illusion of a fast shimmering fragile mirage. It can be both atmospheric and conspiratorial but can turn on the instant from determined and purposefully relentless to a Webernian flutter, tinkling xylophone and the woody clatter of castanets until it stutters to a close. It seems that this work was inspired by the Alhambra in Granada.
 
One of the tougher entries in this series to reflect the variety of creative music-making among Basque composers. 

Rob Barnett 
 
 
BASQUE MUSIC SERIES ON CLAVES
Vol. 1 CD 50-9709 Guridi
Vol. 2 CD 50-9814 Usandizaga
Vol. 3 CD 50-2001 Arambarri
Vol. 4 CD 50-2007 Isasi
Vol. 5 CD 50-2110/11 Escudero
Vol. 6 CD 50-2205 Sorozábal
Vol. 7 CD 50-2305 Donostia
Vol. 8 CD 50-2413 Garbizu
Vol. 9 CD 50-2517/18 Madina
Vol. 10 CD 50-2614 Arriaga
Vol. 11 CD 50-2817 de Pablo
CD 50-2201Sampler - Sounds of the Basque Country
CD-50-2101  Ravel Piano Concertos (Achucarro)


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