Turina Works for Strings Naxos 8.573391

Joaquín Turina (1882-1949)
Works for Strings
La oración del torero, Op 34 (1925)
Tres danzas anadaluzas, Op 8 No 2 Tango (1912)
Las musas de Andalucía, Op 93 No 3 Talía: Naranjos y Olivos (1942)
La Anunciacíon, Op 27 – Aparción del Arcángel – Intermedio (1923)
Serenata, Op 87 (1935)
Sevilla, suite pintoresca, Op 2 No 2 El Jueves Santo a medianoche ‘Desfile de una confradía una callejuela’ (1908 arr. 1937)
Las musas de Andalucía, Op 93 No 9 Calíope: Himno (1942)
Danzas fantásticas, Op 22 No 3 Orgía (1919)
Roberto Giordano (piano), Concerto Málaga/Gil de Gálvez
rec. 2023, San Juan Bautista Church, Nigüelas (Granada), Spain
Naxos 8.573391 [55]

Before listening to this disc of music for string orchestra by Joaquín Turina, I knew only the famous La oración del torero, Op 34. It turns out not to be that surprising, given that is the only work that Turina actually wrote himself in a string orchestra version – and even then it had originally existed as first for lute quartet and then string quartet. So all the music here are arrangements – or often ‘expansions’ on the original works, but that said they are effective and sound well as performed here.

The Concerto Málaga are eleven strings ( plus a harpsichord led and directed by Gil de Gálvez. For this disc they are joined by pianist Roberto Giordano in lieu of the harpsichord for some of the works where the role of the piano ranges from soloistic to instrumental/textural thickening. The two works that originated as quartets – La oración and the Serenata, Op 87 – are also the most extended works on the disc. The liner written by Turina’s grandson José Luis Turina points to advice given the young composer in his mid-twenties by Albéniz; “to compose distinctly Spanish music with a view to Europe”. Both of the quartet works fulfil this remit very well with the earlier oración a kind of miniature tone poem for strings for which Turina left a fairly explicit ‘programme’; “A bullfighting afternoon at the Plaza de Madrid, that old gracious harmonic bullring, I visualized my piece. I was at the horse playground. There, behind a small door, was the chapel filled with unction, where the bullfighters came to pray just a moment before facing death. I was gifted with that subjective musical and expressive contrast in his plenitude: the distant bustle in the arena, made by the public waiting for the party to begin, and the unction of those who, at that poor and tender poetry-filled shrine, came to pray God for their lives …” In contrast the Serenata starts as a dance-inflected ghostly waltz but becomes more reflective and atmospheric but without an explicit narrative thread. The Concerto Málaga play both works well and sympathetically in the church acoustic, but it is possible to imagine a symphonic-scale string group producing a weightier and lusher sound. I think this would especially benefit the air of restrained fervour of the earlier work. That is no criticism of the quality of the playing here – just the simple fact that 11 players sits somewhere between large chamber and small orchestra forces.

The Tango from the Tres danzas anadaluzas, Op 8 is a transcription of an original piano work. Apparently in the composer’s own archive exists an arrangement for string quintet by an unknown author, which is played here. The transcription works well, even if the work itself is a little anonymous. If tango has become synonymous with Argentinian passion, this Spanish version is considerably more decorous. This also points to another issue concerning the small body of strings. The recording itself is quite close and immediate, which technically these Malaga players can stand, but it does compress the dynamic range. Which means that it is hard for the group to float a true focussed pp. The venue/engineering does rather inflate the sonic image of the group in an unatmospheric way. The next item is Las musas de Andalucía, Op 93 No 3 Talía: Naranjos y Olivos. Turina’s idea was to transport Apollo and his attendant nine Muses to an Andalucian setting, with each Muse given a different instrumental and/or vocal musical setting. Thalia is the Muse of Comedy and goddess of the fields and Turina set this picture originally for string quartet. Again the ‘expansion’ to small string orchestra is just that – not an arrangement – and it is attractive in a gently pastoral way, lasting just 2:39. Slightly more substantial is No 9 from the same set; Calíope: Himno which adds a rather stately chordal, indeed hymn-like, piano part. Calíope is the Muse of Epic Poetry and certainly this has a sense of gentle dignity that is rather appealing. Roberto Giordano plays the solo piano part with assurance and clarity and the recording balances the keyboard well within the string group. Both these works are marked as being world premiere recordings in their string orchestra versions, although the liner does not make clear who prepared these versions. Again, I find the tone of the group to be lacking ideal sweetness or warmth.

Giordano also features in the most curious work on the disc; La Anunciacíon, Op 27 – Aparción del Arcángel – Intermedio. The original was a piece of incidental music written for the play La Anunciacíon using a string sextet with piano, but again heard here with expanded strings. The play was a comedy, but the specific placement/function of this interlude is not explained. Musically, it starts again with a fairly impassioned string gesture which resolves into a rather beautiful melody over simple piano chords. This develops to a strangely ‘lounge-like’ theme played by the unison strings over grandiose piano figurations – there is a sense of parody to the writing, but without the context or explanation it simply jars after what came before.

There is clearly a programme too in Sevilla, suite pintoresca, Op 2 No 2 El Jueves Santo a medianoche ‘Desfile de una confradía una callejuela’ which Google translates for me as “On Holy Thursday at midnight – Parade of a brotherhood in a narrow street”. The piano is again present, filling out the texture with ghostly trumpet calls and a slow, steady march tempo amid shivering strings. Certainly it is a very atmospheric and attractive piece – the piano original was written in 1908 with this piano and string arrangement coming nearly 30 years later. The liner does not make clear who did the arrangement, but this is a skilled one. Elements of the keyboard original are retained, while taking advantage of the ability of the strings to sustain and delineate the textural complexities of the original. For me, this piece and the transcription is one of the disc’s highlights.

The disc is completed by another transcription for piano and strings of a piano solo original – this time by Roberto Coll in 1930 of the Orgía which is No 3 of the Turina’s well-known Danzas fantásticas, Op 22. Turina did transcribe this himself for full orchestra, in which guise it appears on just about every collection of Turina’s orchestral works. But Coll’s version works well too, with Giordano’s piano playing suitably muscular and dynamic but also well integrated into the string writing. This is the sort of movement that shows off the Concerto Málaga to best effect and makes a suitably rousing conclusion to this collection.

An interesting collection of unfamiliar music played with conviction, if ultimately lacking the weight and tonal warmth a larger string group would have brought.

Nick Barnard

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