Agur Jaunak
Basque music

EMI - Agur Jaunak

AGUR JAUNAK - Musiques Basques
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 56876 2 3

Sorozabal: Gernika, Suite Vasca
Guridi: Diez Melodías Vascas, Eusko Irudiak
choral songs by Guridi, Donostia, de Madina,
de Olaizola and de Iparragirre

Olatz Saitua-Iribar (soprano)
Sociedad Coral de Bilbao/Gorka Sierra
Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse

c. Michel Plasson

With Agur Jaunak - Musiques Basques EMI has come up with an unexpected Millennium gift, and - at what is a difficult time for the Basque and Spanish peoples - not just for musical reasons. Although Guridi and Sorozábal are known and loved by aficionados of Iberian music, the appearance of a selection of their orchestral and choral music on a major label, under a conductor of international reknown, is a pleasant surprize. Diez Melodías Vascas apart, the works on this well-filled issue are rarities, and its value is enhanced by the inclusion of several choral settings by other, lesser-known Basque composers.

Sorozábal kept alive a sense of identity with his homeland, though not its language, and his choral march Gernika was written late in a long, full life. Like Picasso's great painting, it was evoked by the total destruction of the Basque village during the Civil War, and Sorozábal's martial call to arms packs a trenchant punch which gets this recording off to a bracing start. His Suite Vasca (1924) dates from the years of his Leipzig studies and consists of three settings of Basque folk poems for chorus and orchestra. Lively, tuneful and sumptuously orchestrated, the music is oddly reminiscent of Vaughan Williams's Five Tudor Portraits in feeling, perhaps due to its comparable use of folk material, though the musical style owes more than the Englishman's to Ravel. Not remotely like the familiar Sorozabal of Katiuska and the succeeding zarzuelas, Suite Vasca is still a captivating work on its own terms.

The forthright virtues of Plasson, his orchestra and chorus - pungent sound, tautly sprung rhythms and upfront emotional directness - fit Sorozábal like a glove. The Diez Melodías are excitingly done, too, though admittedly in Guridi's more tender moments Plasson does not match the subtlety of Gomez Martinez and the Basque Symphony Orchestra on the recent Claves issue. Further, EMI's wide-ranging recording hits a tangible sonic ceiling at climaxes, so some of Guridi's delectable orchestral detail is lost. Still, the Toulouse Orchestra's full-blooded playing presents us with a broader emotional canvas than any other recorded version, and Plasson's Diez Melodías Vascas is now on balance first choice of the four currently available.

The Bilbao chorus sound thin compared to Claves's Orfeon Donostiarra in the thrilling Eusko Irudiak, but come into their own in the substantial choral fillers. These are simple pieces, but done as lovingly as they are here - with two gorgeous contributions from the crystalline soprano of Olatz Saitua-Iribar - they are none the less musically satisfying for all that.

Plasson makes out a strong case for these neglected scores from one of Europe's most distinctively colourful regions. Full notes and translations complement his heart-warming performances, and EMI are to be congratulated on a timely and happy issue.

© Christopher Webber 2000

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