Rare indeed is the zarzuelero who enjoys a reputation outside the theatre. Jesús Guridi? Yes, but like Tomás Bretón, he considered himself a “proper” composer who made money by writing some highly successful zarzuelas on the side. Pablo Sorozábal’s orchestral and choral works have gained a foothold in the Basque Country, but it is his contemporary and near-nemesis Federico Moreno Torroba whose name has been best known in concert halls around the world.
This is partly due to his own, untiring work as a conductor. Mainly, though, it’s down to his association with Andrés Segovia, the great guitarist who rendered his instrument respectable by commissioning a stream of works from composers inside and outside Spain. Torroba was the first, and most regularly revisited. As Segovia himself commented in his autobiography: “…for the first time, a composer who was not a guitarist, wrote a piece for the guitar”. This was the Dance in E major (1918), the instinctive, sunny freshness of which set the tone for a host of solo and concerted pieces from Torroba over the next half-century and more.
His fluent writing is built on conventional folk forms, viewed through the prism of a mild harmonic impressionism. It plumbs no great depths, but is as grateful upon the auditor’s ears as upon the player’s fingers. And under Ana Vidovic’s fingers that means very grateful indeed. There is some fabulous virtuoso stuff here, and the range of colour the talented Croatian can call upon is a wonder. There may be one-off performances in the recital catalogue which equal these in charm, notably from Julian Bream and Christopher Parkening, not to mention Segovia himself; but if you’re looking for an all-Torroba solo disc, Vidovic’s sweeps the field.
In the seven, gently introspective Puertas, her subtle sense of rubato gives her the edge over the correct Maximilian Mangold (Musicophon, 2000) though she never loses the silver thread of the musical argument. As for the 30-minute main work, a complete Castillos might seem too much of a good thing, but not when they’re visualised so graphically as here. And although Graham Wade makes some curious remarks about zarzuela, those can be forgiven in the light of his helpful notes on the castles’ locations, and what it was about each of them which fired the composer’s imagination … all of which makes for a 14-course tapas-treat which left me wanting more. This being Guitar Music 1, there’s reasonable hope I might get it, too!
© Christopher Webber 2007
2 September 2007