Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
(Burgos 15.IX.1933 – Pamplona 11.VI.2014)

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

an obituary by Andrew Lamb

Conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos died in Pamplona on 11 June, aged 80, only a few days after announcing his retirement because of cancer. Born in Burgos to a German father on 15 September 1933, he added the name of his birthplace to emphasize his Spanish origins. He trained at the Bilbao and Madrid conservatories principally as a violinist, and later studied conducting at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich. Returning to Spain as conductor of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra from 1958, he gained particular recognition as conductor of the Orquesta Nacional in Madrid from 1962 to 1978. From there his career took off with engagements around the world that indicated the high regard in which he was universally held. In Britain he was particularly prized for work with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and in America he was noted for guest appearances with all the major symphony orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Symphony, the Boston Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington. From 1992 to 1997 he was musical director of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra; he was conductor emeritus of the Dresden Philharmonic, and at the time of his retirement he was chief conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

His repertoire was no less wide-ranging than his conducting engagements, and he was responsible for introducing much non-Spanish music to Spain and much Spanish music to the rest of the world. Not least he was a prolific recording artist, early examples including much-loved recordings of Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Mozart’s Requiem. His 1970 complete recording of Bizet’s Carmen is celebrated for the blend of excitement and sensitivity that lay behind an undemonstrative presence on the podium.

La Tempranica TdlZ 2013Above all, perhaps, he will be remembered for the many recordings of his native Spanish music, which included Falla’s La vida breve and El sombrero de tres picos, Noches en los Jardines de España and Albéniz’s Rapsodia Española (the last two with Alicia de Larrocha) and his own orchestration of the same composer’s Suite Española. By no means least were, of course, his body of zarzuela recordings, which built upon his time as conductor of a zarzuela company in the early 1950s. These records included notable stereo LPs of Guerrero’s Los gavilanes and Chueca’s La Gran Vía (the latter with Nati Mistral, with whom he also recorded a classic account of El amor brujo). The complete recordings he made with Teresa Berganza, such as Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda and La tempranica, also number amongst his most powerful. In some ways most significant was his conducting of the LP recordings of recitals by Victoria de los Ángeles, which did so much to spread appreciation of zarzuela outside Spain. His enduring dedication to the genre was demonstrated most recently by his conducting of Giménez’s La tempranica at Teatro de la Zarzuela to mark his 80th birthday last September: later this year he had been due to conduct a run of performances there of Barbieri’s Los diamantes de la corona.

© Andrew Lamb 2014

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