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ClassicsOnline Home » RODRIGO / VILLA-LOBOS / CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: Guitar Concertos
Joaquln Rodrigo (b. 1901)
Concierto de Aranjuez
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887 - 1959)
Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895 - 1968)
Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra No.1, Op. 99
Joaquin Rodrigo wrote two small pieces for guitar solo in 1926 and 1938, but
it was in 1939 that he 'struck gold' with the Concierto de Aranjuez, dedicated
to the Spanish virtuoso Regino Sainz de la Maza. It has become, quite simply,
the most successful concerto written for any instrument in this century and has
even been rearranged for other instruments, by both the composer and others, but
it remains most effective in its original form.
The Concerto bears the name of the site of a royal palace near Madrid, once
the summer residence of Bourbon kings, but contains no musical allusion to it;
rather is it an expression of Rodrigo's fascination with Spain's heritage-folk-
and art-musical, and social. The first, sonata-form movement is brief: it
develops from the material with which the guitar opens it, mainly in strummed
chords, and is dominated by their rhythm - which serves as an accompaniment to
the melody introduced by the violins. The juxtaposition of 3/4 and 6/8 times
(the hemiola) has been typical of Spanish music since the Renaissance, and it is
a hallmark of this movement.
The opening of the first movement has made the Concerto immediately
recognisable but the heart of the work's popularity is the poignant melody of
the second movement. The guitar begins by repeating the tonic chord of B minor
(the home key of the work is D major) and the cor anglais enters, delivering the
melody in two expansive sections, each repeated by the guitar with melismatic
ornamentation. In this the cor anglais takes the part of a singer, heard in the Saetas
of Holy Week. Whose nasal quality may itself echo that of the relative of
shawm (an ancestor of the cor anglais) used in Spanish folk music. The guitar
has two cadenzas, at the end of the second of which it spurs the orchestra to a
passionate climax and a proud restatement of the opening melody. Finally the
guitar leads the way to a quiet ending, illuminated by a tiercede Picardie
(a chord of B major), a device which for centuries has brought musical passion
to a radiantly calm conclusion.
The guitar is evidently content with the key of B major, maintaining it in
its solo opening to the last movement; the orchestra, however, gently but firmly
reminds it that the home key is D major. The movement is dance-like but,
irregularly juxtaposing 2/4 and 3/4 times, hardly danceable! There is much
brilliant writing for the soloist but, approaching the end, the music quietens
and the guitar seizes the opportunity to flutter gently downwards, bringing
proceedings to an unexpectedly soft conclusion. The orchestration lies down with
the soloist's lamb.
It is uncertain whether the Concerto Op. 99 of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedescoor
the Concierto de Aranjuez of Rodrigo was the first guitar concerto to be
written in this century; both were started in 1938 and completed in 1939.
However, the premiere of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's work (by Segovia, to whom it was
dedicated) in October 1939 predated that of Rodrigo's by more than a year, which
perhaps gives it the primacy. It was in fact the last work that Castelnuovo-
Tedesco completed before he was driven by the Fascist regime in his native Italy
to emigrate to the USA, and he later commented that "Strangely enough,
although it was written at the most tragic period of my life, it is one of my
most serene compositions".
The first movement, a declared tribute to Boccherini, defers to its classical
sonata form in allowing the orchestra to present the first subject before the
guitar enters - with a reminder that it opens with the interval of a perfect
fourth, that which dominates the guitar's open-string tuning. The thematic
material is clear-cut and lucidly developed. An affectionate exchange between
the cello (Boccherini's own instrument) and the guitar precedes the
recapitulation, and a brief cadenza leads to the movement's neat and precise
The second movement, said by the composer to be a sad farewell to the Tuscan
countryside he was about to leave, freely admixes bars of 4/4 and 3/2 times. The
main theme, like that of the corresponding movement of Bach's Double Violin
Concerto, is based on a descending scale, but it is the second one, gently
rising and then falling, to which the soloist's cadenza refers. Canonic
imitation, a distinctive feature of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's style, pervades the
whole of this movement.
The final movement, about which the directive "ritmico e cavalleresco"
(rhythmically and in knightly fashion) says so much, is, as the composer
said "more Spanish in character, rhythmic and bold, in the mood of an old
Ballad". A brilliant cadenza points the movement in the direction of a
joyous conclusion, and with it that of a gracious, lyrical and luculent work, in
which the deft scoring ensures that the small orchestra never covers the small
voice of the guitar .
One could scarcely imagine a sharper contrast than that between the
conservative (no 'ologies' or 'isms') and economical Castelnuovo-Tedesco and the
colourful extrovert and largely self-educated Heitor Villa-Lobos, the blender of
Brazilian folk elements with those of European art music. Of the three composers
in this recording he was the only one who had some skill with the guitar, for
which he had written a few small pieces before his meeting with Segovia in Paris
in the 1920s. Though Villa-Lobos left comparatively few works for the guitar,
the Twelve Studies (1929), Five Preludes (1939-40), the Suite
(1908-1912) and the Guitar Concerto (1951) have become world-wide
standard repertory for the instrument. The Concerto was written for Segovia, who
premiered it in February 1956. He did so only after Villa-Lobos had added the
cadenza - there was one in the Harp Concerto, written for Zabaleta, so why not
one for the guitar? - and the original title of "Fantasia concertante"
was changed. Villa-Lobos approved of the use of a microphone by the soloist,
"in order that he may play with greater freedom"; Segovia never agreed
with this, nor has Rodrigo ever done so - claiming it to be unnecessary in the
performance of his works.
The orchestra briefly introduces the first movement before the guitar enters
with the energetic, wide-ranging first subject. The second, somewhat slower,
recalls (but does not quote from) the folksongs of north-east Brazil; here the
guitar deploys chords and harmonics. Again after a short introduction (flute and
clarinet) the guitar begins with the main theme of the second movement, a melody
of 'popular' character in 3/4 time, which returns in varied form after the
expressive central section (6/8 time) and before the coda.
Here the cadenza is interposed, a lengthy and virtuosic mulling-over of the
Concerto's thematic material. The Finale has several time-changes (3/4, 2/4, 6/4
etc.), a variety of thematic material and a great deal of syncopation. The
guitar is partnered by other solo instruments (clarinet, oboe, bassoon, viola
and horn) in displays of contrasting tone-colours, and, once having begun, the
soloist hardly pauses for breath before the end of the stimulating kaleidoscope.
This recording brings together three of the most important guitar concertos
written in this century, by composers of three different nationalities -and in
three very different styles.
© 1993 John W. Duarte
The guitarist Norbert Kraft won early distinction in 1975, when he won the
Grand Prize in the Canadian CBC Radio Competition, following this in 1985 with
first prize in the Segovia International Competition in Mallorca. He enjoys a
substantial career as a concerto soloist and appears regularly with important
orchestras, particular in Canada and in the United States of America, as well as
in Europe and the Far East. He was chosen to represent Canada at World Expo '90
in Osaka and again in Seville in 1992. Norbert Kraft is a faculty member of the
Manhattan School of Music in New York and professor of guitar and chamber music
at the University of Toronto and the Royal Conservatory of Music. He is founder
and director of the Toronto Guitarfest.
Northern Chamber Orchestra, Manchester
Formed in 1967, the orchestra has established itself as one of England's
finest chamber ensembles. Though often augmented to meet the requirements of the
concert programme, the orchestra normally contains 24 musicians and performs
both in concert and on disc without a conductor. Their repertoire ranges from
the baroque era to music of our time, and they have gained a reputation for
imaginative programme planning.
Concerts take the orchestra throughout the North of England and it has
received four major European bursaries for its achievements in the community.
With a series of recordings for Naxos the orchestra makes its debut on disc.
Born in Manchester in 1952, Nicholas Ward was the son of parents who met when
they became members of the Hallé Orchestra. It was therefore natural that music
played an important part in his life from childhood. His early attempts at piano
playing having proved unsatisfactory, he moved to the violin, and at the age of
twelve had formed his own string quartet. It proved highly successful and
remained together for five years until he entered the Royal Northern College in
Manchester where he studied with Yossi Zivoni and later in Brussels with André
Gertier. Ward moved to London in 1977 where he joined the famous Melos Ensemble
and the Royal Philharmonic when the orchestra worked with Antal Dorati as its
Principal Conductor. In 1984 he became co-leader of the City of London Sinfonia
followed by the appointment as leader of the Northern Chamber Orchestra. Two
years later he became the orchestra's Musical Director, and now directs from the
leader's chair. In this format the orchestra has become highly regarded both in
concerts and broadcasts.
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