Great Conductors – Ataúlfo Argenta

0 of 5 stars

Ataúlfo Argenta
Falla, Liszt, Ravel, Schubert
Recorded 1951-57

Reviewed by: Bill Newman

Reviewed: August 2002
CD No: IMG Artists CZS 5 75097 2 (2 CDs)

Ataúlfo Argenta was presumably destined for greatness but for an unfortunate death from car fumes, an event that is shrouded in mystery. Those early Decca LPs of Zarzuelas, not all of which were released in Britain, are indications of superb diversity and resilience in not exactly inspired repertoire, but highly entertaining nevertheless. There is strength of commitment in everything we hear on this CD, and elsewhere. One of my favourites recordings (not included here) is Debussy’s orchestral Images.

Liszt’s A Faust Symphony is in the original version minus the choral ending. With no detriment intended, it is worthy of inclusion, comparing with Beecham and Bernstein, the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra (1955) showing similar abilities to both the Royal Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic Orchestras (on Bernstein’s first recording). What I do miss is a certain frisson that the two Bs possessed, which implanted on our misguided ’hero’ a kind of jagged, mad vision of his own self-importance, and on his rival Mephistopheles a dreaded certainty amounting to total dominance. Most of Argenta’s pictorial realisations ring out with a sense of authority.

Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso(1956, Orchestre des Cento Soli) is excellent, a complete feeling for assertive textural clarity and precise rhythms lacking only the hypnotic trance that Celibidache achieved.

The surprise is Schubert’s ’Great C major’ Symphony (1957, same forces) – a good 50 minutes worth of dear old Franz with the non-essential repeats missing – admirably paced, phrased, with all nuances perfectly in place.

Falla’s El amor brujo, the early 1951 EMI-Columbia 10-inch LP still gracing my shelves, is a totally riveting performance with the marvellous Ana Maria Iriarte as mezzo-soprano soloist. There is a guttural twang in her contribution, completely matched by Argenta’s closely-knit orchestral setting that places the interpretation on a pedestal of inspired rightness. Not even Reiner and Ansermet at their best, or those Spanish specialists Pietro de Freitas Branco and Fernando Arbos, quite measure up to the overall menace of this version.

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