Notes and Editorial Reviews
ATAÚLFO ARGENTA CONDUCTS
Ataúlfo Argenta, cond; O Natl de España;
O de la Suisse Romande;
Gran O S
ICA 5087, mono (76:35) Live: Madrid 1955-57;
Symphony No. 3 in E?,
The Bartered Bride:
La corte de Granada, Fantasia morisca:
El tambor de granaderos:
El baile de Luis Alonso:
La boda de Luis Alonso:
Having not been a fan of zarzuela music until the early 1970s, I had never heard or heard of Ataúlfo Argenta before, though he recorded this repertoire mostly for Decca London. To be honest, the photo on the CD cover was not encouraging: unsmiling, in fact darkly scowling, Argenta grips a baton in his fist with the pointed end down. He looks (and I’m not exaggerating) like a young Boris Karloff about to impale a vampire with a stake. But as soon as I put the CD on, I was astonished by the high quality and personal phrasing of his music making.
Argenta was a conductor in the mold of Weingartner or Bruno Walter. He was not by any means the type of conductor who willfully ignored phrase markings or tempos in order to stamp his own “interpretation” on a work, but rather one who used an essentially steady tempo with modifications within the basic beat. These modifications are a bit wider than those of a Toscanini or Busch, yet this performance of the Beethoven “Eroica” resembles, in its use of occasional rhetorical phrasing, Toscanini’s 1933 recording of the Beethoven Fifth. A strong pulse is tempered by an astonishing lyricism; this is the kind of performance one used to hear back then from conductors such as Schuricht, Kletzki, or young Karajan, but you don’t hear any more because everyone is marching to the Strict Time Beat. Nor does Argenta lack anything in terms of feeling: His “funeral march” is as strongly felt as any I’ve ever heard. Moreover, he gets exceptionally good playing for its time out of the Spanish orchestra, despite one crack from the horns in the trio of the third movement. I also loved the recorded sound: Although a bit distant, not one note was lost on the home listener, and the hall ambience is so full and natural that you’d swear you were
in the concert hall listening to this performance…awfully good for 1957.
Argenta’s performance of
The Bartered Bride
Overture also bristles with good humor, but more importantly his stylish sense of continuity and excellent command of legato phrasing also come through, and these traits inform every one of his zarzuela excerpts. All the while I was listening to these, I couldn’t help thinking how much better he was than any of the conductors on Montilla’s many zarzuela recordings, or some of Victoria de los Angeles’s zarzuela recordings on EMI. This disc was a terrific surprise and a delight for me, and I think you’ll find that Argenta was one of the very few conductors who died young whose fame would undoubtedly have continued to grow.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Musica clasica: Prelude by Ruperto Chapi
Grand Symphony Orchestra
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