Tuesday 3 August 2021

Antonio José incompleto: a portrait of the Spanish composer killed in 1936

Antonio José incompleto; Adriana Vinuela, Elisa Rapado, Lina Tur Bonet; Stone Records

Antonio José incompleto
; Adriana Vinuela, Elisa Rapado, Lina Tur Bonet; Stone Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 30 July 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An intriguing exploration of the songs and instrumental music of the Spanish composer Antonio José who was executed in Spain in 1936

The composer Antonio José is an intriguing and tragic figure. Born in Burgos in 1902 (as Antonio José Martínez Palacios), he studied in Madrid and worked in Malaga and Burgos, writing quite prolifically. But in 1936 he was arrested and executed without trial and his music banned by the Franco government and his work effectively forgotten until the 1980s.

There are surviving major works including a Sonata for Guitar, but on a new disc from Stone Records, Antonio José incompleto, Adriana Vinuela (soprano), Elisa Rapado (piano) and Lin Tur Bonet (violin) give us a picture of Antonio José's musical life through his music for voice, piano and violin.

Antonio José was very much interested in and influenced by folk music, born in the relatively small Burgos he was talented enough to be sent to Madrid to study. He was something of a prodigy, but came from a humble background and even when in Madrid he had to work. He then had jobs in Malaga and then Burgos. His music ignores many of the currents floating around Spain at the time, notably neo-Classicism, and takes on something of a French influence. He is able to travel to Paris and it is the music of Ravel that influences him, he seems to have met Ravel. But the music of his native Burgos was also a powerful influence. He seems to have been friends with Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali, and his fate in in 1936 was very much akin to that of Lorca. 

On this disc, the performers focus on his songs including at least six which do not seem to have been performed since his death. The programme is organised chronologically, so we have music from his early period in Burgos (including a tiny song from a Zarzuela!), then two rather more academic works from his time in Madrid. Next come a group of songs from his time in Malaga, and finally the really mature works including two short pieces linked to his opera Minatchi. He was a Republican and his work in Burgos involved the fact that he wanted music to be for everyone (at around the same time, Lorca would be taking theatre groups into the countryside), so the music is strongly Spanish in flavour yet with the suggestions of French polish and more, quite often in the mature works I kept coming back to Manuel de Falla as a reference.

The format of the disc requires a degree of patience, the early works are incredibly talented but hardly riveting and we have to wait for the later mature ones. It is fascinating listening to this music with its mix of Spanish and French. There isn't a lot of his music on disc so that this recital is enormously enterprising and there are some terrific pieces, yet there is something a little frustrating about it as well. There are no large-scale works, the longest are the two academic pieces written in Madrid. Despite the power of the songs you feel this is a journey around the fringes of Antonio José's musical life and there is much more to explore.

There seem to be plenty of areas for exploration, though the information may be more available to Spanish speakers. We don't know much about his visits to Paris, nor is it clear who he studies with in Madrid. His death seems to have been part of the general round-up of Republican leaning teachers, yet the rather blanked ban and ignoring of his music until the 1970s seems to suggest something further.

For those interested in exploring, there is a film Pavana Triste about his life, though there does not seem to be a lot on disc, yet.

Antonio José incompleto
Antonio José Martinez Palacio (1902-1936)
Adriana Vinuela (soprano)
Elisa Rapado (piano)
Lina Tur Bonet (violin)
Recorded 1 September, 19 & 27 October 2019
STONE RECORDS 5060192781069 1CD [44:47]

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