I like guitar music - rock, folk, acoustic pop, you name it. If you include electric guitars, it's hard to imagine any instrument being more versatile. Of course, this countdown of classical music doesn't include electric guitars, sadly. It won't include many acoustic guitars either. Even though guitar-like instruments have been played for hundreds of years, they're just too quiet to be much use in an orchestra.
In 1939 Joaquin Rodrigo wrote a piece for guitar and orchestra that would become his most loved and best remembered; Concierto de Aranjuez. In the version I watched (video below) you can see efforts to balance the levels of the guitar against the other instruments. It looks like the guitar has two mics in front. The orchestra is small, and some of the players are using mutes. Presumably Rodrigo commanded the mutes, but did he have access to the microphones in 1939? I imagine the original conductor constantly telling the orchestra to keep it down.
The guitar really shines in its solo passages. It's this kind of virtuosic string-work that paved the way for all the axe-wielders to follow in the age of rock 'n' roll. Is it a far cry to say no Rodrigo; no Hendrix?
What some rock guitarists could stand to learn from this piece is that it's not just speed and showmanship. There's such a range of expression from the joyful to the sweet and tender passages. And I lap up Rodrigo's harmonic writing. The dissonances are sometimes playful and sometimes poignant. A dash of spice here and there really brings out the (Spanish) flavour of the whole.
A final thing I love about this particular recording - a small injection of fun really makes a difference. The way Pepe and his conductor sport with those last few notes is great to watch. And would the plaintive Adagio be considered so beautiful, if it wasn't sandwiched between two jocular movements?
Currently at #71 in the countdown, I'm wondering how many more guitars I'm likely to hear. Is this the one and only? If it is, it's well deserved.