ALBENIZ: Iberia (Orch. Arbos, Surinach) – Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy – Pristine Audio

by | Jan 30, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

ALBENIZ: Iberia (Orch. Arbos, Surinach) – Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy

Pristine Audio PASC 262, 70:47 mono [avail. in various formats from] ****:

Recorded between 10 January, 19 February, and 8 April 1956 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia and released on Columbia M2L 237, the orchestration of the Albeniz twelve-movement piano suite Iberia(1905-1909) with Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) appears via Pristine as remastered and edited by Mark Obert-Thorn. Typically, the Ormandy treatment emphasizes lush string sound, smooth transitions, and a marvelously alert surface patina.  

The suite opens with the Evocacion in A-flat Minor, a tribute to the “deep song” and jota impulses of southern Spain. The port town of Cadiz inspires El Puerto, a busily colorful zapateado in D-flat Major. The brass and harp contribute to the grand sweep of the shifting tides both on and off-shore. When the colors melt together, we sense that Debussy has exerted a subtle influence. Perhaps the most challenging piece for changes of meter and style, El Corpus en Sevilla in F-sharp Minor/Major offers a  processional in swaying staccato that suddenly explodes into saeta, both jubilant and mournful at once, the passion and resurrection in the Body of Christ. A deep Andalusian song emerges, redolent with guitars and flamenco whose intensity mounts to a fortissimo worthy of the Philadelphians in their glory. The latter pages become a heated tarantella that subsides into devotional mystery once more.

Rondena in D Major celebrates another southern Spanish town, again in Andalusian tapestries that ask strings and percussion to swirl in light touches, despite some insistence from the tympani. The impressionist element makes its presence felt in the merging colors and sweet lyricism, a mix not so far from Gershwin’s An American in Paris. The G Major Almeria sways and sachets with a flavor common to that gypsy style Manuel de Falla found no less beguiling. A decidedly Moorish resonance filters into the score, one of the more adventurous pieces harmonically and rhythmically, which likes to confront ¾ with 6/8. More gypsy music comes from Triana, a kind of impish pasodoble in two-step and sevillanas in triple meter with castanets and heel-work effects.  Albeniz’ application of counterpoint testifies to a level of harmonic and melodic sophistication that may not always receive its due appreciation.

El Albaicin depicts a gypsy quarter of Granada. The dance–a bulerias–and a sensuous secondary theme create a cante jondo of mesmerized, Moorish effect, a theme Josef von Sternberg could have used in The Devil is a Woman. The flamenco element becomes inflamed, majestic, a sad song of the world. Perhaps the most overtly histrionic of the set, El Polo asks to be played “as a series of sobs,” in broken phrases and accented syncopation in flamenco style, but the urge to sonata-form seems to restrict its spontaneity, but not its ardent colors. Lavapies takes its name from a blue-collar neighborhood in Madrid noted for dancehalls and Cuban influences. The complications of the ensuing habanera capture the often labyrinthine, occasionally humorous workings of the district, a populace moving and dynamic, to which Ormandy brings a fevered realization that might stand as a center piece for the rendition.

Malaga on the Mediterranean opens the last sequence of musical postcards of Spain, the seaport a bustling complex of malaguena and fandango energies. The palpable feeling of water likely nods to Debussy, but the cante jondo in every turn of phrase is a magic Albeniz owes no one. Jerez, the Andalusian town, rests its fame on sherry wine. The music gathers its motif from the soleares, a dance whose name means “the lonely ones.” The step-wise melody in a Phrygian mode restricts its deep song, but the martial strumming of guitars (the toque) and the play of the brass and harps in feral meters add colors of faraway enchantment. Eritana (in E-flat Major), a tavern on the outskirts of Seville, offers gay flamenco music and sevillanas that engage the Philadelphia in quickly shifting colors. Two themes engage in dialogue (in sonata-form) without any contrasting secondary theme. The spirit of feria rules, rife with inflated pomp and tipsy ceremony, ever colorful and brilliant, a superb vehicle for the most vibrant of American orchestral ensembles.

— Gary Lemco


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