Jesús Arámbarri

Claves - Arambarri

Jesús Arámbarri (1902-1960)
(Basque Music Collection Vol. III)
CLAVES CD 50-2001

Gabon Zar Sorgiñak: Preludio Orquestal (1930)
Ocho Canciones Vascas para soprano y orquesta (1931)
Elegía "In Memoriam" (1930)
Aiko-Maiko (Ballet). Suite sinfónika (1932)
Maria Bayo (soprano)
Basque National Orchestra
c. Cristian Mandeal

Volume 3 in the Basque Music Collection from Claves introduces the work of Jesús Arámbarri (1902-1960). Bilbao-born Arámbarri effectively gave up composition after the Civil War, partly due to the demands of his conducting career - some of his EMI recordings of Spanish music have remained in the catalogue to this day - but partly also due to the dimming of the creative fires.

The pieces here were all written between 1930 and 1932, and though it's dangerous to draw too many conclusions from Claves's generous sample, the latest and longest of them - a suite from the ballet Aiko-Maiko - is certainly the least interesting. Like the others, it draws heavily on Basque folksong material, leavened with brightly astringent harmonic and orchestral touches; but the old half-truth, that all you can do with a folksong once you've played it is to play it again, comes to mind here. Arámbarri's ballet score is quite without the individualism or conviction that enables, say, Janacek's Rákos Rákoczy or Vaughan Williams's more modest Old King Cole, to ride out a necessarily episodic structure. Significantly, the score wasn't played until after Arámbarri's death.

The other three works are shorter, better structured and more personal. The 6-minute prelude Gabon zar Sorgiñak draws on at least two nursery tunes which will be familiar to anyone who knows Guridi's Ten Basque Melodies and El caserío - both of which it predates - and justifies itself with wit, brevity and instrumental savvy. Better still is the touching elegy In Memoriam. The opening andante quotes a Guridi song Así cantan los chicos to charming effect, going on to juxtapose it with the lively Al alimón, al alimón as well as the inevitable Dies Irae. Near the end there is also a clear reminiscence of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony. There is at least a spiky individuality to Arámbarri's harmonic palette, though never enough to frighten the horses, and In Memoriam is warmly successful if not in the last resort entirely individual.

I suppose most people will be attracted to this CD by Maria Bayo, the seductive vocalist in the Ocho Canciones Vascas for soprano and orchestra. Here Arámbarri courts comparison not only with Guridi's various folksong settings, but also with Falla's ubiquitous Seven Popular Songs. If his settings don't have the range or variety of either of his masterly contemporaries, they are delightful enough on their own terms. The gentle lullabies are especially haunting, and fans of Bayo will certainly not be disappointed, despite the comparative brevity of her contribution.

Romanian conductor Cristian Mandeal's work for Arte Nova, notably his indispensable series of Enescu recordings, has alerted many to his rare musicianship. The playing he draws from the Basque National Orchestra is vital, precise and imaginative - an impression which Claves's demonstration recording quality, full and detailed, enhances. The composer would surely have approved his conductor colleague's advocacy, and though this disk falls into the category of the pleasant rather than the necessary, I am certainly glad to have had the pleasure of Arámbarri's acquaintance.

© Christopher Webber 2000

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