Notes and Editorial Reviews
Enrique Fernández Arbós is known to us today for his orchestration of five movements of Albéniz’s piano masterwork Iberia, and Navarra, the unfinished additional movement to that work. Arbós was born in Madrid in 1863 and made a name for himself as a violinist—he became concertmaster of both the Berlin Philharmonic and the newly created Boston Symphony—before taking up the baton. He was principal conductor of the Madrid SO from 1904 until his death in 1939. His slight output as a composer generally precedes his tenure with the orchestra; once established there, the only work of note he produced was his orchestration of Iberia (which Ravel yearned to do, but Albéniz had bequeathed the task to his friend Arbós. Eventually the orchestration of the whole suite was completed by Carlos Surinach).
This double CD set gives us Arbós’s complete extant orchestral works in a new recording under Jesús López-Cobos plus, on the bonus CD, the composer conducting his Albéniz arrangements and two movements from his own Pequeña Suite. (These recordings were made in either 1928 or 1929: the cover gives both dates.)
Arbós’s original works are all superior genre pieces, tuneful and artfully scored. Unpretentious and delightful, they would certainly appeal to the numerous lovers of “light music.” The influences are readily apparent: Bizet and most obviously Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. The three pieces for violin and orchestra come uncomfortably close to the latter, notably the second (“Guiajiras”), but no matter. They are thoroughly idiomatic showpieces and deserve a wider audience. Rimsky–Korsakov also gets a nod in the “Arabian Night” movement of the suite. All this music is dispatched with real spirit by the present-day Madrid orchestra. Unfortunately, Malikian’s fiery fiddle is recorded too closely and suffers from a hardness in timbre in consequence.
The second CD is valuable as a historical document. The sound reproduction varies, but is perfectly acceptable overall. The final movement of the Iberia suite (“El albacin”) was apparently the most difficult recording to source and its sound is very dim. Though taken from 78-rpm originals, none of the tracks contain any surface noise; it has been digitally removed and in the case of “El albacin,” I wonder whether too much of the music went with it—always a perennial concern with historical recordings. Arbós had a master’s ease at the podium: he sits back a little in the bouncy pieces compared to López-Cobos. At a guess, I would say the Madrid SO boasted a larger string contingent in Arbós’s day than it does now.
The Albéniz arrangement is best heard in streamlined, up-to-date sonics. Coincidentally, López-Cobos is responsible for the most recent recording of Iberia. He conducts the Cincinnati SO on Teldec. (That issue includes the Surinach movements, but not Navarra.) Arbós’s own enjoyable orchestral works are not available elsewhere to my knowledge, although Naxos has been dabbling in this corner of the repertoire of late and may have something up their sleeve.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott