Zarzuela and Spanish Orchestral Works
Ataúlfo Argenta recorded prolifically in Spain during the mid-1950s – especially in the field of zarzuela. The examples of the genre that open the present collection are not all the preludes as which they’re labelled. In the case of La gran vía and El niño judío they’re really brief potpourris, while what is described as the prelude to La leyenda del beso is actually an intermedio – with some affinity to the better known similar extract from Goyescas also included here. For newcomers to zarzuela it should amount to a satisfying taster.
What impresses throughout the collection is the life and character that Argenta conjures up. With flexible, alert rhythms, and attention given to every nuance of phrasing and dynamics, there’s a jauntiness about the whole thing not always to be found with other conductors. Certainly none of the several other versions of Guridi’s Diez melodías vascas creates quite the initial excitement of this offering, and yet the more lyrical Amorosa movement pulls at the heart-strings. Albéniz’s Navarra, too, has an extra excitement beyond what one normally hears. We’re pretty much in Argenta’s home territory here, of course, since he was born just outside the Basque region.
Apart from the mono Chapí, all the recordings are early stereo. In their remastering by Paul Baily they all carry their years astonishingly well. Indeed it’s difficult to think of a more rewarding cross-section of Spanish orchestral music. Hearing it can only emphasise how much was lost by Argenta’s early death.