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Basque Music Collection, Vol. 14: Pedro Sanjuan

Sanjuan / Basque Nat'l Orchestra / Orozco-estrada
Release Date: 08/14/2012 
Label:  Claves   Catalog #: 1109   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Pedro Sanjuán
Conductor:  Andres Orozco-Estrada
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Basque National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SANJUÁN Castilla. Liturgia Negra Andrés Orozco-Estrada, cond; Basque Natl O CLAVES 50-1109 (63: 15)

The music of Pedro Sanjuán (1886–1976) is a revelation to me, as I assume it will be to many Fanfare readers. Only one other recording of his music exists, La Macumba, performed by Alfredo Antonini and the Santa Cecilia Academy of Rome Orchestra on New World 111. This composer, Read more according to the liner notes, was barely known outside of his circle, and “It is not easy to reconstruct the course of Pedro Sanjuán’s life and the scarce biographical references that exist are not clear.”

But there is nothing indefinite, or uninteresting, about this music. Sanjuán, on the basis of this CD, shoots to the top of the list of Latino composers of his era along with Ponce, Revueltas, Turina, and Chávez. Castilla is a fascinating three-movement work, apparently composed in 1927, which fuses traditional Basque melodies with strict classical form, harmonies reminiscent of Debussy or even Stravinsky, and an extraordinary musical imagination. Primarily tonal but ever-changing and rhythmically diverse, Castilla will absolutely mesmerize you. The best description I can give is that it sounds like Ravel or Roussel on steroids, provided that they’d also be familiar with traditional Basque music. (The liner notes confirm my impression that here is a Spaniard influenced in form by the French.) Like Ravel, Sanjuán also uses an alto saxophone solo for color—his music is nothing if not colorful.

One key to the rigorous musical mind of Sanjuán comes from a description of him by Turina, who met him in Cuba in 1929: “Excitable and impassioned, gifted with a straight back and punctuality worthy of an Englishman and always ready to take a far-reaching look at things … Pedro Sanjuán is tireless; he works nonstop: composing, studying scores and above all, rehearsing.” This combination of excitability, fastidiousness, and imagination are indeed hallmarks of his music. In 1923 he accepted an offer to go to Cuba, where the following year he set up the Philharmonic Orchestra, which almost immediately started playing native Cuban music, “although presented within a formal Franco-European framework.” (Cuba commemorated his work there with a stamp honoring the 50th anniversary of the orchestra, which was later conducted by Erich Kleiber and José Castro among others.)

Liturgia negra was written before Sanjuán left Cuba, but they don’t say when—only that it was first published in 1934, then again by Max Eschig in 1939—though later on it is said that Sanjuán left Cuba in 1932. Its motor rhythms are more in the Hispanic style of the New World than the old, much like the music of Chávez and Revueltas. It is certainly the liveliest musical liturgy you’ll ever hear, nothing at all like Franco-German works with the same title. (The aforementioned La Macumba , though written in the 1940s, is also considered to be among his Afro-Cuban works.) It’s rather a shame that his music wasn’t at all well known in North America at the time; it could have provided some stimulating inspiration to Dizzy Gillespie and Machito, the pioneers at combining Afro-Latin music (specifically Cuban) with jazz in the late 1940s. Moreover, the orchestral color and rhythmic excitement continue to mount throughout the Liturgia’s five movements, culminating in an almost orgiastic “Comparsa Lucumi” that would not be out of place during Carnival time down in Rio. Listening to it, I can almost hear Dizzy or Charlie Parker soloing above the massed orchestra!

Andrés Orozco-Estrada, who appears from the photo in the booklet to be quite a young conductor, does a wonderful job of presenting this music clearly, yet with a lilt and charm that do not overlook those qualities. This is certainly one of the most pleasant musical surprises of the year.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Castilla by Pedro Sanjuán
Conductor:  Andres Orozco-Estrada
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Basque National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Spain 
Liturgia Negra by Pedro Sanjuán
Conductor:  Andres Orozco-Estrada
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Basque National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Cuba 

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