Medici Masters – Ataúlfo Argenta

0 of 5 stars

El amor brujo [Love, the magician] – Suite
Noches en los jardines de España [Nights in the Gardens of Spain]
La vida breve – Introduction; Vivan los que ríen
El sombrero de tres picos [The Three-cornered Hat] – Suite No.2
Escenas Andaluzas – Polo Gitano; Zapateado

Teresa Berganza (mezzo-soprano)

Gonzalo Soriano (piano)

Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française [Falla]
Gran Orquesta Sinfónica
Ataúlfo Argenta

Falla recorded at a concert in Paris on 21 February 1957; Bretón taken from an LP made between 1955 & 1957

Reviewed by: Mike Langhorne

Reviewed: February 2008
Duration: 78 minutes



It is always good to welcome rare material from this fine conductor. During the 1950s Ataúlfo Argenta (1913-1958) had established himself as a distinguished musician in Spain and was on the point of moving into the international sphere (he had signed a contract with Decca and recordings had been made and were planned) when he died an avoidable death.

This Medici Masters release is mostly of music by Manuel de Falla and was recorded at a public performance in Paris at an undisclosed venue in 1957. Despite expert re-mastering, the mono sound-quality is not wonderful, being bass-heavy and closely balanced – no doubt to dampen the cavernous acoustic of the anonymous concert-hall.

However there is plenty to enjoy – not least the smoky mezzo of the 21-year-old Teresa Berganza. There is an earlier (Paris Conservatoire Orchestra) Argenta version of El amor brujo, one that has much to recommend it. It is (or was) available on “Great Conductors of the 20th Century” (IMG Artists) and in “Les introuvables de Manuel de Falla” (EMI France), respectively dated as 1951 and 1953! The question over the date aside, they are the same performance and feature the excellent Ana Maria Iriarte as soloist. Whether studio recording or concert rendition, Argenta’s approach is similar, which means both are thrilling and utterly idiomatic – the ‘Great Conductors’ transfer is the better of the two, and preferable to the sound on this Medici release, but Berganza’s contribution in the current issue just about tips the balance in its favour.

Her vital timbres are also heard in “La vida breve”; the heart-aching passion she invests is alone worth the price of the disc.

Things go downhill a bit from here. Gonzalo Soriano also has a commendable studio recording of Nights in the Gardens of Spain – did the poor man play anything else? – a stereo version with Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducting. I didn’t enjoy this Paris relay much: nothing to do with Soriano and Argenta (they are fine – evocative and subtle) but the sound of the piano is thick and wooden and nullifies the music’s magic, such as can be found in Alicia de Larrocha’s Decca version, with said Frühbeck again at the helm. Similarly Suite No.2 from The Three-cornered Hat, while thrillingly conducted, suffers from constricted sound as well as wobbly horns and some pretty ‘relaxed’ playing.

To close the disc, Argenta conducts two movements from a suite by Tomás Bretón; charming and easy on the ear and now graced by fine stereo recording.

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