I was very pleased with an earlier CD of music by the Basque composer, Jose Guridi - 'Ten Basque Melodies,''Así cantan los chicos,' et al, featuring the same artists as this CD -- that is part of Naxos's ongoing Spanish Classics series. It was with great anticipation that I acquired this CD with Guridi's 'Sinfonia Pirenaica' ('Pyrenean Symphony'). I was not disappointed. Indeed, if anything, I was more pleased with this work than the earlier ones. Guridi (1886-1961) wrote in a post-Wagnerian, post-Straussian, post-Franckian harmonic language that is leavened by Basque folk-melodies, an almost French sense of clarity, and his own formal procedures that could be characterized as rhapsodic (but in actuality are a unique use of sonata-form), rhythmically interesting (there are frequent meter changes), and a use of flatted thirds and sevenths that one is told are characteristically Basque. One is reminded, in a way, of the immediately accessible and superficially 'simple' style of Engelbert Humperdinck in that the immediate effect is deepened with further study of the craft involved. This is a symphony that not only would be popular on first hearing, even with a musically unsophisticated audience, but increasingly treasured by the cognoscenti on further familiarization.
In three movements, this 50-minute work describes in non-programmatic way the composer's response to his own native country, the Basque Pyrenees. There is much use of Basque folk music coupled with quite sophisticated but always tonal harmonic features and brilliant orchestration. The latter is particularly obvious in the Presto second movement and the apotheosis of the third movement. The performance by Juan Jose Mena and the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra is all one could ask for.
The CD is rounded out by a brief selection from Guridi's opera, 'Amaya,' the 'Espadadantza' ('Sword Dance'), which ends with a choral celebration.
This CD is a keeper. I hope there will be more music by Guridi in this increasingly valuable series of recordings.