Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

An appealing musical journey

From January 25, 2010:

Tomas Garbizu is so obscure that he doesn't have his own page on the English Wikipedia site*. You have to go to the Basque (Euskara) version ( for basic information on the composer. So Naxos comes through again: presenting interesting music that most of the world doesn't know.

The music on this CD represents more than just one hour's worth of a composer's output. Through these songs and suites Garbizu provides a glimpse of a musical tradition that goes back at least to the middle of the 19th Century (the Basque Folk Revival), if not to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when early versions of the Txistu, the three-hole flute heard in this music, originated.

I'm reminded of Villa-Lobos's collections of Brazilian folk songs: the Guia Pratico. In Garbizu's case, as with Villa-Lobos, authentic folk songs are combined with newly-composed songs in the authentic style, and they're all adapted for various combinations of instruments and voices. By the way, Villa-Lobos's songs included tunes from Amerindian, African, and European (especially Iberian) sources. I wonder if any of the old Basque songs ended up in Brazil; the first tune on the disc "Donostiatik Lezo aldera" would sound right at home in a choros from Rio de Janeiro. Indeed, the musical traditions embedded in this music are similar to the choroes, since both combine a rural, rustic music with something more sophisticated and urban.

From reading about the traditional txistu melodies, one wouldn't expect too much variety in this music. An hour-long chunk of rustic songs in the Mixolydian mode might seem a bit daunting to listen to all at once. It's a tribute to the native genius of the traditional Basque musicians, and to Garbizu's skill as a composer and arranger, that the whole programme seems so natural and yet so interesting. This is partly because of the colour that Garbizu provides through the skillful blend of three instruments: the piano (played here by Alvaro Cendoya) and the txistu and tamboril (both played, one in each hand, by Jose Ignacio Ansorena). And it's partly due to the varied rhythms of the music. It all adds up to an appealing musical journey.

Here's the txistu, with its accompanying drum (from the Basque Culture page at the Bilbao tourist site):

* October 2015: he does now, small as it is.

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