RODRIGO:  Soleriana:  Suite para orquesta.  Zarabanda lejana y Villancico.  Cinco Piezas Infantiles.
Austurias Symphony Orch/Maximiano ValdČs, cond.
NAXOS 8.555844 (B) (DDD) TT:  60:56

As long as there are classical guitarists, the blind Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-99) will be played, especially his Concierto de Aranjuez and, although less often than it deserves to be heard, Fantasia para un gentilhombre. In 1992, EMI issued a 4-disc compilation of concertos for harp, flute, violin, cello and piano in addition to four for guitars (solo and plural). All were conducted by Enrique Bátiz with two orchestras at London plus the State of Mexico Symphony over a five year period, 1981-86. Bátiz's fourth disc contains orchestral pieces including two of the eight movements from Soleriana, a 1953 suite honoring the18th century Catalan composer, Antonio Soler (1729-83), a contemporary of the Neopolitan Scarlatti who came to Spain and never left. Rodrigo's complete homage, lasting 40 minutes, has ample charms but does outstay its welcome: there is too much of the same despite his mastery of the orchestra. Bátiz, in other words, knew what he was doing, which allowed him to add three works not on Naxos' new disc. Maximiano ValdČs is indubitably a sympathetic interpreter, with plenty of spirit and a medium-sized orchestra based in Oviedo that displays class as well as finesse—not always the case with Spanish ensembles. For a bonus, producer Peter Newble and his chief engineer, Andrew Lang, have taken shrewd measure of the Prince Felipe Auditorium, and their 24-bit sound is major league indeed.

What's left is the Zarbanda lejana, Rodrigo's first work for guitar (or piano) composed in1926 as an homage to Luis Milán, to which Rodrigo added Villancico when he orchestrated it in1930 for string orchestra. Five Children's Pieces preceded the Sarabande by two years - originally for orchestra although arranged in 1928 for piano. At 12 minutes it is just long enough and altogether beguiling. For those who own the EMI collection, the six missing movements from Soleriana are more than compensated for with Per la flor del llilo azul ("reflecting the mourning of all nature for the death of a young Prince") dating from 1934, a 1935/1957 collection of cradle songs called Music for a Garden celebrating the four seasons, and a late work, In Search of the Beyond (A la busca del más allá), created in 1976 - six years before Rodrigo's final work, Concierto para una fiesta, fittingly for guitar.

If you can find the EMI Rodrigo Edition, there are nine concertos with some vividly idiomatic solo playing admirably recorded by Brian Culverhouse. But perhaps all will be forthcoming from Naxos: This volume is called after all "Complete Orchestral Works - 1." Conductor, orchestra and production team whet one's appetite.

R.D. (October 2002)