The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Ara Malikian (violin) Castilla y Léon Symphony Orchestra/Alejandro Posada
Composer: Bretón, Monasterio

Listening to these neglected products of Spain’s Romantic period, one is reminded just how cosmopolitan the country’s indigenous composers were until the emergence of Albéniz, Granados and Falla. Anyone expecting musical travelogues along the lines of Bizet’s Carmen or (more pertinently) Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole will search in vain for the slightest hint of a habanera, malaguena or fandango. Jesús de Monasterio has some justification as his concerto dates from around 1859 and was substantially revised in 1880 (the version recorded here). Yet astonishingly, Tomás Bretón’s was written as late as 1909 in memory of Sarasate, whose influence as either player or composer is difficult to discern until the finale, which at least has a gentle Iberian lilt to its rhythms.

In truth, neither work is particularly individual or distinctive, with passages reminiscent of Vieuxtemps, Viotti and Wieniawski (especially) flowing freely throughout. Ara Malikian’s relatively lightweight, plaintive tone works wonders in the more reflective moments and lends a welcome clarity and silvery purity to the occasional high-wire, pyrotechnical outburst. That said, these rather studio-bound performances lack the virtuoso thrust and sparkle the music appears to cry out for, putting safety first where ideally everyone should be pushing on exuberantly. Malikian is ably supported by the orchestra and Alejandro Posada, and the recording is commendably warm and spacious.