Beethoven
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
Smetana
The Bartered Bride – Overture
Ruperto Chapí
Musica clásica – Prelude
La corte de Granada, Fantasia morsica – Serenata
El tambor de granaderos – Prelude
Gerónimo Giménez
El baile de Luis Alonso – Intermezzo
La boda de Luis Alonso – Intermezzo
Orquesta Nacional de España [Beethoven]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande [Smetana]
Gran Orquestra Sinfónica
Ataúlfo Argenta

Beethoven recorded 24 May 1957 in Palacia de la Música, Madrid; Smetana on 29 August 1957 in Victoria Hall, Geneva; Zarzuelas recorded in Madrid between 1955 and 1957
CD No: ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5087
Duration: 77 minutes
Reviewed: December 2012
The ‘Eroica’ seems to have been broadcast from a barn of a place, the sound recessed, over-reverberant and, at times, confused. Nevertheless, it says much for Ataúlfo Argenta’s conducting that a disciplined and fiery performance can be appreciated. The first movement (without the exposition repeat, which will divide opinion) is fleet and lithe but not thrown away in ‘historically informed’ craziness as regards tempo; indeed Argenta is flexible and invests much character into proceedings, inspiring his orchestra to give every sinew. The succeeding ‘Funeral March’ (with too short a gap before it arrives), taken with definite tread, is dignified in its grieving and intensely climaxed. The opening of the scherzo is blurred and is set at ‘sensible’ tempo if with expressive uplift; the trio, begun after an unhelpful comma, finds the horns confident. The finale – ironically, the wait for this is too long! – has a sense of purpose and, indeed, eager enthusiasm, closing with a fine blaze of triumph and an egalitarian sprint. Applause is retained. As it is for the Smetana, with Ernest Ansermet’s Suisse Romande Orchestra, the Overture not rushed off its feet to good effect and affectionately turned (the trumpets snipe somewhat though), but sounding with (too) similar cloudiness as the Beethoven and with some slight tonal discolouration noticeable in the strings at particular dynamics.
The Zarzuela items, on CD for the first time, are mostly pure pleasure (music to lighten the darkest days, Gaité Parisienne meets Rossini with a Spanish accent)), including Chapí’s ‘Prelude’ to Musica clásica, which quotes (if not exactly) from Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony and Mendelssohn’s ‘Overture’ for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (if to little purpose when these masterpieces are available as the composers intended). The other selections are very enjoyable, prancing and exhilarating and conducted with as much devotion as the other music here, and excerpted from Argenta’s numerous commercial recordings of this folk-opera genre. As re-mastered, these Spanish items could have been brighter and livelier-sounding than they are (less concern with expunging every vestige of hiss and crackle would have helped reproduction). As it is, this release makes an interesting aside to the work of a short-lived (1913-58) but charismatic conductor, and ICA Classics is to be congratulated for keeping his name in view.

 

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