Mr. Richman has said all the necessary things about Ataulfo Argenta, who died tragically but embarrassingly when he and a music student sought to keep warm on a cold winter's night by sitting in the garage and turning on the car engine. That event in 1958 curtailed Argenta's discography, which in any case had only one classic recording, the "Espana" collection beloved by audiphiles for its vintage, spectacular analog sonics. They've come out very well in Decca's most recent remastering, and the album remains evergreen. So much for CD 1.
CD 2 begins with energetic, even brash readings of the two Liszt Pinao Concertos with Julius Katchen that are all but unlistenable because of the boomy, hollow, clattery sound given to the piano and the buzzy strings in the orchestra; God knows how Decca everr released these. Junky recordings of junky pieces. However, what follows is a delightful, idiomatic Iberia by Albeniz (orchestrated from the piano suite) that I've never heard. The Paris Conservatoire Orch. is in its element here, sounding at once exotic and dandyish. Argenta's phrasing couldn't be improved upon.
CD 3 gives us a Symphonie fantastique from the same orchestra that's French in all the wrong ways: wobbly horns, indifferent execution, and not much involvement from Argenta, either. Then Argenta returns to strength with Turina's alluring Danzas fantasticas, again with the Conservatoire forces, in a swinging, slam-bang reading.
CD 4 is devoted to Liszt's Les Preludes and Faust Symphony. EMI did Argenta no favors by trumpeting him as a Great Condcutor of the Century, hwere I first encountered this Faust Symphony with the Conservatoire orchestra sounding scrawny (but nicely spooky) and Argenta funning a decided second-best to Beecham from that era. The Suisse Romande orchestra, then in its heyday under Ernest Ansermet, play much better in Les Preludes, which gets a rousing, thoroughly enjoyable reading from Argenta.
CD 5 brings the acid test. If Argenta's name is to survive as more than a Spanish local colorist, surely he can do Tchaikovsky. Here we get the violini concerto with Campoli, a Decca star in early stereo, and the Sym. #4. Well, Campoli is soupy but incrdibly well recorded in the concerto; this is Moscow on the Tiber. The symphony brings in the Suisse Romande orchestra again, sounding a bit shrill but also tangy and not at all bland. And bless Argenta, he conducts with interest and originality, mostly on the brisk side but never succumbing to routine. I'm glad he puts his best foot forward at the end in a reading that ranks among his best.