Concierto Vasco para 4 guitarras y orquesta;
Basque Rhapsody; Concertino Vasco para arpa y orquesta de cuerdas
(world premiere, orch. completed by Tomás Aragües Bernad);
Aita Gurea*; Basque Christmas Suite* **; La cadena de
oro**; Agur Maria; Basque Children Overture; Christmas
Triptych; Danza; Orreaga
Spanish music has its share of might-have-beens, few of them more fascinating than Father Francisco de Madina. An inspired but overworked teacher-administrator, he was shuffled by the Franciscan fathers between his Basque birthplace, Argentina and New York, coming home only to die. The shufflings, as José Antonio Azpiazu made clear in his lavishly illustrated, multi-lingual short biography, were partly motivated by his superiors desire to limit Madinas practical musical activity: his passionate devotion to Basque melodies and dance rhythms sometimes, especially in Argentina, marooning him in politically murky waters. In spite of this Madina managed always to make music the centre of his life, often foregoing sleep to produce a stream of lively, spontaneous and engaging works, almost always inspired by the occasion of the moment. The latest addition to Claves invaluable Basque Music Collection presents a batch of his best, in performances which do their generous and lovable composer full justice.
In New York Madina played host (and cook!) to many visiting Spanish stars, amongst them harpist Nicanor Zabaleta and guitar quartet Los Romero, for whom he became a sort of musical father-confessor. His most played large-scale work is the Concierto Vasco for four guitars and orchestra, premiered by Los Romero with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler in 1970. Anyone expecting a soothing exercise in neo-classical Spanishry is in for a surprise. This is bracing music, interleaving gentle lyricism with stately zortzicos and pungent modern harmonies. The soloists provide textural contrasts rather than virtuosic display, with results that are always engaging and often more than that. Madinas music doesnt possess the last degree of polish, and the development of his folk material is often perfunctory; but he never goes on a moment too long, and the musics unflagging energy carries the day. Collectors possessing the cherished LP version with the original Romeros need not fear that the current roster is any whit inferior, and with demonstration-quality modern recording and immaculate orchestral playing from the Basque Symphony Orchestra under one of the best conductors in the business this new recording is a winner.
The life-force which makes Madinas music so attractive is equally evident in the briefer orchestral offerings, not least the harp Concertino, a four-movement meditation on (as ever) Basque themes, poetically turned by Xavier de Maistre. Elsewhere, there are whiffs of the Argentine pampas in the 1969 Danza - and in Orreaga (1954), a lively musical imagining of Roncevalles, Charlemagnes 778 defeat at the hands of Basque patriots ... perhaps hinting at a contemporary moral?
Madina was a gifted miniaturist, as his short piano and a capella vocal works show; and here too the choral works strike deep. Aita Gurea (The Lords Prayer) is a moving, five-minute masterpiece, its serene block chords reminiscent of Slav rather than Spanish liturgy. Agur Maria (Ave Maria) is a lucid white-note meditation which seems, like the work of his contemporary Donostia, to exist outside time. The short cantata La cadena de oro, a hortatory Argentine legend alternating choral and spoken narrations over a brooding orchestral web, offers a sample of Madinas strong sense of theatre. In all three Orfeón Donostiarra are on rock-solid form, inspired by Cristian Mandeal to unusual precision and perfection of tuning. Its a pity that we still dont have a good, modern recording of Arantzazu, a moving Basque equivalent of Martinus folk cantata Kytice (although a 1985 live performance is available on the Basque ausArt label). Meanwhile this outstanding Claves collection provides a heart-warming introduction to this most likeable of Basque composers.
© Christopher Webber 2006