Carlos Surinach (1915-1997)
Acrobats of God (1960)
The Owl and the Pussycat (1978)
Embattled Garden (1957)
Aliana de la Guardia (narrator)
Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose
rec. 2018-2021, Massachusetts, USA
BMOP Sound 1089 
The music of Barcelona-born and USA-domiciled Carlos Surinach is most likely to have crossed your CD player in the form of his Piano Concerto. It was played by Alicia de Larrocha as part of a Decca disc, Concertos from Span (review). There were other recordings but some years after his death his cadre of work dedicated to Louisville handed him a further CD. This was part of the invaluable Louisville Orchestra First Edition (FE) series (review). Lamentably, this line sank after a few years in the early 2000s. What are the chances of someone rescuing that disc and indeed the whole long FE list from deletion purgatory?
Gil Rose and BMOP now give us three works fresh (as far as I know) to the catalogue. All are works written for Martha Graham. Each is punctiliously tracked, section by section, movement by movement. The documentation is scrupulous, laden with photographs and extensive. The sound is spectacularly clear – no compromise here.
The nine tracks of Acrobats of God are variously light of heart with textures always clear as a blue sky. There is no matte and no fuzzy focus. The dance music is a sort of analogue to neo-classical Stravinsky; tense and playful. The initial dancing theme returns in the last movement. The middle sections move through Hispanic mournful (cor anglais), colourful revels, Tudor style idylls not that remote from the Moeran Serenade, to a Bolero and Minuet that recall the mandolin playing in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The penultimate movement (8) is a bravura ‘stomp’ like a great Easter procession with garish plaster saints borne high. That finale – a Spanish Gallop – is a counterpart to Massenet’s dance movements for El Cid with a musing flute: Pan in the midday heated undergrowth. The music virtually dances on the aural palate. You might be forgiven for thinking of this work and the others in the same brotherhood as the suites by Massenet, Poulenc or Milhaud.
The Owl and the Pussycat has a stylish female narrator who resists any temptation to guy it up and gives herself to the innocence of Lear’s poem. I suspect Lear would have been pleased. It’s all very much in the same caste as Acrobats with the orchestra sustaining rather than tending to suffocate the oration. This is savage, finally serene and quiet in a fashion not that distant from pastoral Copland.
Embattled Garden is the earliest piece here. In the Allegro ma non troppo banners seem to float and snap above Iberian battlements. Tiento da Queja is dominated by a pattering figuration with a musing and rhapsodising clarinet in the van. Tiento de Pena (2) is a thing of idyllic reflection by woodwind. An éloge reflecting the sadness of bereavement. Surinach ends with Tiento de Alegria which is more outgoing but stands back from the “full fling”. It is as if there is a governor on the emotions; a certain coolness.
The BMOP book gives us commentary in the composer’s own words and an even more immersive essay on all three works by Clifton Ingram.
Rob BarnettAvailability: bmop