Music is like wine. Some is best consumed young and in quantity. Some is above fashion, gaining richness with time. Guridi's conservative idiom, closer to Smetana than Stravinsky, was an obstacle during the 1950's and 60's towards his acceptance beyond the Pyrenees; but time is revealing his music to be expertly crafted, flavoursome, and of a robust quality made to last. Certainly the vintage transcends local appeal, as anyone who buys this inexpensive Naxos bottling will soon discover.
Diez melodías vascas (Ten Basque Melodies) is Guridi's best known orchestral work, and rightly so. His orchestral imagination and epicurean harmonic palette are nowhere heard to better advantage than in this collection, which ranges from an elegant zortzico Danza through the Handelian sturdiness of De Ronda to the Amoroso, a moving melody for orchestral cellos which lies at the work's heart. The Bilbao performance is clean and clear, without matching the inner warmth of Gomez Martinez (Claves) or the heart-on-sleeve intensity of Plasson (EMI). Mena sometimes allows momentum to slacken. Nonetheless, the consistent orchestral playing provides a good introduction for anyone new to this distinctive work, poised between classic and romantic.
The hectic comedy of the Straussian Don Quijote tone poem (1916) is similarly well served, again without displacing the earlier Claves account. The rest of Naxos's program is of even greater interest, as neither En un barco fenicio (In a Phoenician Barque, 1927), written about the time of his great zarzuela El caserío, nor the two short works with voice have appeared on CD before. The orchestral piece is a rarity, a pictorial evocation of the myth of Telemachus, scouring the Mediterranean in search of his father Odysseus. Beyond the Hollywood fanfares and brooding, Bantock-like opening paragraphs its thematic material may not show Guridi at his most distinguished, but tight structuring and some tempestuous pyrotechnics help bring his barque safely into port.
So to the vocal pieces. The brief 1942 alborada, Canta el gallo tempranero (The early cock crows) is delightful, with Isabel Álvarez bringing out a sensuality reminiscent of Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne. It's worth remembering, though, that Guridi had used a similar harmonic brush as early as 1915, for the heroine's freshly bejewelled morning song in Mirentxu, a Basque zarzuela written the same year as Así cantan los chicos (So Sing the Children). This is a real find, a memorable triptych of folk-inspired poetry incorporating popular Spanish songs. Two lively play sequences provide the outer wings for the centrepiece of a child's funeral, directly set, touching in its avoidance of mawkish sentiment. Guridi's idiomatic writing for childrens' choir is caught most attractively by the young Bilbao singers, impressively in tune throughout, and Así cantan los chicos resounds well beyond its 14' compass.
For listeners new to Guridi this generous and well-played collection will provide immediate pleasure and lasting satisfaction. Those of us already in the know about one of Spain's best-kept musical secrets will be even more grateful to Naxos, especially for placing before us the haunting Así cantan los chicos. May we dare to hope that they will follow up with the Pyrenean Symphony?
© Christopher Webber 2003