22 July, 2011

CD Recommendations: Concierto de Aranjuez

CD Recommendations: Concierto de Aranjuez

The blind composer Rodrigo wrote one masterpiece, the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra. For more info on this piece, read the wikipedia entry, which is lively and informative, though far from complete. I am sure you already know much of the music. If you think you don't, listen to the youtube clips supplied below and you shall realize you do.

There are literally hundreds of recordings available (click here), and it is hard to make a bad recording of this transcendentally beautiful music. Personally I'd opt for a Spanish guitarist accompanied by a Spanish orchestra if possible. Narcisco Yepes recorded it several times, but some versions seem to be out of print (for available ones, see here). All of them are delightful, so I'd go for the budget one shown (Universal/DG).

Yang Xuefei's version (EMI) is easily available, and has interesting fillers. I am not sure how "Spanish" she is, but she as always plays with character (to me much more interesting than those Japanese female guitarists). The Spanish orchestra and conductor are good too.

The wiki entry neglected to mention that the composer himself arranged his work for harp (for the great Zabaleta) and this version is performed to perfection in a new Sony/RCA issue (info in German; artist's website), which I recently found in the library! Xavier de Maistre, harpist of the VPO, is magnificent, strong, fleet, nuanced, indeed better than some guitarists! And the fuller sonority of the harp is a great pleasure. This may not be easy to source but is worth it.

Jazzed Up
Over the years there have been numerous arrangements of this syblime music. Most famous is Miles Davis' version (arranged by Gil Evans), which Miles delivers in his sparse style (Columbia).

But last year I chanced on the Jim Hall version and fell in love with it (CTI; info here). The Hall version stays quite close to the original and I prefer it because of its use of guitar, which is still best in delivering that certain sultry feeling.

You can listen to Miles and Hall in the youtube clips below. Many other arrangements veer too much towards pop and should be avoided if you have heard or love the originals.

There are tons of videos on this music. I have selected a few, mostly of the slow movement, for your enjoyment/comparison. First, classical guitarist Xuefei Yang's Proms performance is not for the full classical orchestra, but it is atmospherically shot. I particularly like Yang's rather individual, even somewhat masculine, way. The EMI promo for her CD is great to watch too.

The Miles Davis version is great, but I still like the guitar better:

It's too bad Miles' version is the one every jazz lover thinks of, but I think Jazz guitarist Jim Hall's version (with a great band) is actually better, more atmospheric and closer to the original. You get the best of all worlds here, guitar and trumpet!

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