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Great Conductors of the 20th Century - Ataúlfo Argenta

Release Date: 06/04/2002 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 75097   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Franz LisztMaurice RavelFranz SchubertManuel de Falla
Performer:  Ana Maria Iriarte
Conductor:  Ataulfo Argenta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestre de la Société du Conservatoire ParisCento Solisti Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: n/a 
Length: 2 Hours 24 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

With its first dozen releases in the 'Great Conductors of the 20th Century' series EMI Classics ally themselves with the same gold standard as the Philips 'Great Pianists' series. I wonder how many more are to come after the first barrage. The classical newsgroups will be rocking with the usual debates about why one conductor was included and another waits disconsolately in the steppe. Why was this or that version chosen over another? I do not want to be left out. More of that anon.

Argenta was born on the Northern Atlantic coast of Spain at the small fishing town of Castro Urdiales (about the same size as Brixham in Devon, UK). It is not far from Santander. He studied in Belgium and Germany after beginning his conservatoire
Read more studies at the age of thirteen in Madrid. His wartime prentice years in Germany were possible because of Spain's and Franco's special relationship with the Dritte Reich. Argenta promptly left Germany and returned to Spain when allied bombs fell too close for comfort. In 1946 he became chief conductor of the Spanish National Orchestra. His interpretations of Spanish and French music were well regarded.

His recordings include a Symphonie Fantastique with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, a reputedly exhilarating Tchaikovsky 4 (LSO), he conducts the LSO in the famously OTT Campoli Tchaikovsky violin concerto (reissued on Beulah 3PD10- how we miss that label) and serves similar duty, this time with the LPO, for Katchen's Liszt piano concertos.

He recorded a great deal of Spanish music. All the usual suspects are there. Turina, Rodrigo, Guridi, Usandizaga, de Falla, Halffter and Granados all get a look in. His Ravel also includes Pavane, Rapsodie Espagnole and Ma Mère l'Oye. I am sure I recall these appearing on Decca Ace of Diamonds LPs with the ADD prefix (how those prefixes resonate: SRCS, VIC, ACL, ADD, SXL, ASD etc!). Maurice Ohana's early Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter was also recorded. There are upwards of twenty Argenta LPs of zarzuela by Vives, Jimenez, Serrano, Breton and Chapi.

I am not sure what has been done in Spain but so far as the wider European and world market is concerned, Argenta has not received the sort of methodical adulation and 'reissuitis' accorded to the likes of Kubelik, Silvestri and Markevich let alone Stokowski and Walter. This set is a major step forward for his reputation.

The Argenta Faust Symphony is furiously virtuosic, oozing fiery conviction and bringing you up short with artistic parallels that would never have occurred to you without Argenta's attack. I defy you not to think about Tchaikovsky's Fifth and Manfred when you hear this. This is the original version without the chorus in the Mephistopheles finale and Argenta gave it its first recording.

The slowness of Argenta's Great C Major is the first thing that hits you and I can't say I like it. This does however accentuate the quick tumbling Brucknerian climax at 4.19 and the quicker tempi chosen for the later movements. In the andante the precisely limned steadily ticking beat works well. The scherzo is roughened and tartly brusque. This is not in my view an extraordinary Great C Major nor for that matter was the last Ninth I reviewed - that of Boult and the BBCSO on the now sunken Beulah label.

It is rather a shame that Argenta's El Amor Brujo follows just after the Schubert. The Schubert symphony is the only thing here to be in stereo and its sound is pretty good as is that for the Liszt. The de Falla is the oldest recording in the set and its string tone is a mite splintery. Odd, too, that it was recorded by the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra when Argenta's own orchestra the Orquesta Nacional de España would have been a more natural choice. However the invitation came from French Columbia and he had to dance to their tune. As it turns out the orchestra are on good mettle. This is a superbly spick and span interpretation of a work which I have long adored. By this I do not imply that it is too regimented. It finds time to stretch and wonder, for example in the Pantomima in which de Falla wrote an angel's gift of a tune. Here the massed violin tone takes off some of the sheen. As for the mezzo, Ana Maria Iriarte, she is perfect, with guttural hues to catch the smoke-roughened gypsy throatiness. There is hardly a trace of vibrato. She is a cut or two above the flawed Ines Rivandeneyra recently heard by me in Markevich's 1966 recording on Eloquence. She also takes great care with the shaping of the words (printed in full in Spanish and trilingual translation) and their meaning. When the suite finished I immediately played it again - such was the effect of this recording on me. In time it might even displace my perverse and aberrant preference for the Russian CFP licensed performance on CFP 40234 with Arvid Jansons conducting the Moscow Radio SO. The mezzo is Irina Arkhipova. But before you go looking for it bear in mind that it is an LP and that the sound is surprisingly scrawny in places.

[This is not the first time I have encountered Argenta in de Falla. In 1998 I reviewed Grabaciones Históricas on Almaviva DS0121 (4CDs). This included a 1965/66 radio tape of an astounding Tricorn with the Orquesta Nacional de España. This must have been an extraordinary event with Argenta delivering the music in the style of Mravinsky - incandescent. The explosion of applause comes as no surprise. This all de Falla set is still available from Diverdi Classics in Madrid. Diverdi, Eloy Gonzalo, 27, 28010 Madrid - España Tel. +34-1-447.7724 or 447.8471, Fax +34-1-447.85.79, diverdi@diverdi.com]

Both the Faust and the Alborada are recorded in the present set in close-up vivid sound with more hiss evident in the Faust than the Alborada. The Alborada has some of its brashness and brilliance bled away by the 1950s engineer's decision to pull back on the recording levels for climaxes.

The notes are informative and thorough as you would expect from Alan Sanders. I owe it to Mr Sanders that I can tell you that the Cento Soli was a contractual pseudonym used at different times for the Lamoureux, the Paris Conservatoire or for a pick-up orchestra. The trilingual notes are contrasted with five wonderfully grainy and articulate photographs courtesy of Toni Argenta. The recordings are licensed to EMI by Decca, Musidisc and EMI France.

Lisztians need to hear Argenta's Faust. His El Amor Brujo is perhaps the best ever. This set has attractions transcending fogeydom and 1950s nostalgia.

Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Faust Symphony, S 108 by Franz Liszt
Conductor:  Ataulfo Argenta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestre de la Société du Conservatoire Paris
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854-1857; Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 06/1955 
Venue:  Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, France 
Length: 61 Minutes 31 Secs. 
Miroirs: Alborada del gracioso by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Ataulfo Argenta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cento Solisti Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1904-1905; France 
Date of Recording: 11/19/1956 
Venue:  Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris 
Length: 7 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Symphony no 9 in C major, D 944 "Great" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Ataulfo Argenta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cento Solisti Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: ?1825-28; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/08/1957 
Venue:  Wagram Hall, Paris, France 
Length: 50 Minutes 9 Secs. 
El amor brujo by Manuel de Falla
Performer:  Ana Maria Iriarte (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Ataulfo Argenta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestre de la Société du Conservatoire Paris
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1915; Spain 
Date of Recording: 01/30/1951 
Venue:  Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris 
Length: 24 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Language: Spanish 

Sound Samples

A Faust Symphony S108 (2002 Digital Remaster): I. Faust (Lento assai - Allegro impetuoso - Allegro agitato ed appassionato assai)
A Faust Symphony S108 (2002 Digital Remaster): II. Gretchen (Andante soave)
A Faust Symphony S108 (2002 Digital Remaster): III. Mephistopheles (Words by Goethe: Allegro vivace ironico - Andante mistico [Apotheosis])
Alborada del gracioso (2002 Digital Remaster)
Symphony No. 9 in C 'Great' D 944 (2002 Digital Remaster): I. Andante - Allegro ma non troppo
Symphony No. 9 in C 'Great' D 944 (2002 Digital Remaster): II. Andante con moto
Symphony No. 9 in C 'Great' D 944 (2002 Digital Remaster): III. Scherzo (Allegro vivace) & Trio
Symphony No. 9 in C 'Great' D 944 (2002 Digital Remaster): IV. Finale (Allegro vivace)
El Amor brujo (2002 Digital Remaster): Introduccíon y Escena
El Amor brujo (2002 Digital Remaster): En la cueva
El Amor brujo (2002 Digital Remaster): Canción del amor dolido
El Amor brujo (2002 Digital Remaster): Danza del terror
El Amor brujo (2002 Digital Remaster): El círculo mágico
El Amor brujo (2002 Digital Remaster): A medianoche
El Amor brujo (2002 Digital Remaster): Danza ritual del fuego
El Amor brujo (2002 Digital Remaster): Escena
El Amor brujo (2002 Digital Remaster): Canción del fuego fatuo
El Amor brujo (2002 Digital Remaster): Pantomima
El Amor brujo (2002 Digital Remaster): Danza del juego del amor
El Amor Brujo : Las Campanas Del Amanecer (Remasterisé En 2002)

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