A tender and moving account of the life of Nobel Laureate Juan Ramón Jiménez and a little donkey named Platero, in southern Spain at the turn of the twentieth century. Set to music for guitar and narration by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Recorded in Spanish, with the printed text in Spanish and English.
Label: Soundset Recordings
Item Number: SR1026
Year Recorded: 2008
Platero y yo - Elegia Andaluza
Nelson Brenes - Narrator
Frank Koonce - Guitar
Frank Koonce is an acclaimed American guitarist, known internationally as a performer, teacher, and writer. He holds degrees from the North Carolina School of the Arts and from Southern Methodist University, Summa Cum Laude, and did postgraduate study as a Fulbright Scholar and performer in Italy. Mr. Koonce's creative output includes an authoritative guitar edition of Johann Sebastian Bach's complete solo lute works (Kjos Music Publishers), a collection of historical anthologies entitled "The Frank Koonce Series" (Mel Bay Publications), and individual works by modern composers (Les Producions d'OZ). He has recorded an album entitled "A Southwest Christmas" with the Phoenix Bach Choir (Soundset, SR 1005) and is featured in a live concert video with the renowned Russian composer/guitarist, Nikita Koshkin (Mel Bay 99231VX). As a founding partner of Soundset Recordings he has helped produce other classical compact discs, including the first two recordings of Koshkin and a premiere recording of Symphony No. 3 by Alan Hovhaness that was part of the theatrical trailer for Paramount's award winning film "There Will Be Blood." A Professor of Music, Mr. Koonce has taught at Arizona State University since 1978 where he was Director of an international guitar festival jointly sponsored by the Guitar Foundation of America and the American String Teachers Association in 1987. He is an active performer with recitals to his credit in Europe, Asia, Central America, and throughout the United States.
Nelson Brenes - Narrator
Nelson Brenes, with an extensive and prestigious professional carrier in radio, worked as a producer, journalist, and newscaster at the BBC of London (1964-1978). As a member of the BBC Opera Club, he was the principal, as a baritone, in André Messager's comic opera Véronique. In 1985 he travelled to Washington DC to work at the Voice of America. A few years later, he was appointed as General Director of the Costa Rican National Radio and Television System by the President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Dr. Oscar Arias. Mr. Brenes has taken part in musical productions such as Gobierno de Alcoba by Costa Rican composer Carlos Castro, and the Three Penny Opera by Kurt Weill. He has narrated poems and short stories in the National Theatre, the National Auditorium, and the Melico Salazar Theatre. Furthermore, he has narrated Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat and Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf with the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica, conducted respectively by the Americans Gerald Brown and Irwin Hoffman, and the Chilean Agustin Cullel. With American guitarist Frank Koonce, he performed Platero y yo in the National Theatre and other private halls in Costa Rica, as well as in the VIII International Guitar Festival in Velez, Malaga, Spain, in 1999, a performance praised by the internationally acclaimed Venezuelan guitarist Alirio Diaz. He has produced CDs of poetry by Garcia Lorca, with music by Roberto Viquez, and by Costa Rican Poet Jorge Debravo, with music by Carlos and Jose Castro. Currently, he is working on a national audio book-recording project of novels and short stories, sponsored by the Education and Culture Ministries of Costa Rica.
Platero and I is a captivating book of prose, the crowning achievement of Nobel Prize-winning writer Juan Ramón Jiménez. Subtitled 'Andalusian elegy,' it is a reflection of the experiences of Jiménez and Platero (from 'plata y oro'), a little donkey to whom the poet confided his thoughts, feelings, and observations about daily life in his village of Moguer, Spain, at the turn of the twentieth century.
Twenty-eight of the verses from Platero y yo were set to music for classical guitar in 1960 by the Italian-born American composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Soon afterwards, Andrés Segovia recorded ten of them without narration, since much of the musical score sounds complete by itself. Both the music and the text, independent of one another, are profoundly expressive and moving; but together they become a true masterpiece. This recording features 17 selections from Platero y yo performed by narrator Nelson Brenes and guitarist Frank Koonce.
Producer: Frank Koonce
Co-producer: Nelson Brenes
Recording and editing: Todd Hallawell and Eduardo Ortiz Monestel.
Mastering: Ben Taylor
Art and design: Leanne Koonce
The cover artwork was adapted and colorized from a nineteenth-century photograph by T.H. Lindsey. The booklet illustrations are by Maud and Miska Petersham (1922).
Â© 2008, Frank Koonce and Nelson Brenes
Â© English translation: 2008, Frank Koonce
Â© Music: 1973, Edizioni Musicali Bérben
All rights reserved.
Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958) was born in the Andalusian town of Moguer. He wrote over twenty-five volumes of poetry, including Platero and I (1907-1916), the best known of his prose works. The Spanish Civil War forced Jiménez and his wife, Zenobia, to flee their homeland in 1936. After spending time in the United States and Cuba, the couple made their final home in Puerto Rico. Jiménez received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1956, three davs before his wife's death. Heartbroken by her passing and being in poor health, he died two years later.
The first complete edition of Platero and I appeared in 1917. Earlier, an abridged edition of selected verses had been published for children, for which Jiménez notes:
Some people believe that I wrote Platero y yo for children, that this is a book for children. No. In 1913, the editor of La Lectura, who knew that I was writing this book, asked me to advance a few of its most idyllic pages for its 'youth series.' Then, changing my idea momentarily, 1 wrote this prologue:
A NOTE TO THOSE GROWNUPS WHO
READ THIS BOOK TO CHILDREN
This short book, in which joy and sadness are twins, like the ears of Platero, was written for... I don't know for whom!... for whomever lyric poets write... Now that it goes to the children, I do not add nor remove a single comma. That's it!
'Wherever there are children' says Novalis, 'there exists a Golden Age.' Since it is within this Golden Age, which is like a spiritual island fallen from the sky, that the heart of the poet walks and finds so much to his liking, that his greatest desire would be to never leave.
Island of grace, of freshness and of happiness, Golden Age of the children: I always found you in my life, sea of mourning; let your breeze lend me its lyre, high, and, at times, without reason, like the trill of the lark in the white sun of the dawn!
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) spent his youth in Florence, Italy, where he attended the Cherubini Royal Conservatory of Music and earned degrees in piano and in Composition. He became widely known in Europe during the 1920s as a concert pianist and composer. In 1939, because of the emergence of Fascism in Italy and Mussolini's anti-Semitic policies he immigrated to the United States, settling in California after a two-year Stay in New York.
A highly skilled and prolific composer, Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote in almost every musical form. His most celebrated works include the opera La Mandragola, overtures to twelve plays by Shakespeare (many of whose sonnets and poems he set to music), and two Shakespearian operas The Merchant of Venice and All's Well that Ends Well. He also wrote solos, concertos, and chamber music for a variety of instruments, over 200 songs, and over 300 scores for the motion picture industry, among them Gaslight, And Then There Were None, The Loves of Carmen, The Yearling, and The Mask of the Avenger.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco's students include noted composers Andre Previn, Henry Mancini, and Jerry Goldsmith, and guitarist Ronald Purcell, who provides us with this personal testimonial:
With an uncanny sense of history, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco aligned himself with oral traditions, famous painters, and literary masterpieces, and he created musical moods evoking the emotional content of any text or graphic artwork. His compositional style is so heterogeneous that one hears in his works all musical styles that have come down through the ages. Platero and I is an excellent example of this symbiotic relationship between the composer and the story woven by Juan Ramón Jiménez. Castelnuovo-Tedesco's works are refreshing, eloquent, and sing the 'Song of Songs', and will continue to please audiences for generations to come.
Label: Soundset Recordings
Item Number: SR1026
Year Recorded: 2008
Nobel Prize-winning Andalusian poet Juan Ramón Jiménez is most remembered for "Platero y yo," his 1917 collection of tender reflections on his beloved little donkey. In 1960 Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote guitar accompaniments to be played with the recitation of 28 of the 32 short chapters. His music perfectly suits the character of the texts -- gentle, idyllic, pastoral, sometimes playful, and sometimes melancholy. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was astute in calculating the relationship between the words and the music, and they complement each other beautifully, without overwhelming each other, but the music is of enough interest that it could exist independently of the text. The alchemy of words and music in this recording of 17 of the movements with speaker Nelson Brenes and guitarist Frank Koonce creates a wonderfully complete experience. Both perform with a reserve and understatement that suit the text ideally, never falling into broad humor or pathos that could weaken the work's gentle impact. Brenes, an operatic baritone, delivers the text with directness and sensitivity, and he's well matched with Koonce's relaxed and expressive playing. The sound is clean and intimate. The CD is beautifully produced, with charming pen and ink illustrations from an early edition of the text. It should be of interest to fans of Spanish-flavored guitar music, and of spoken poetry with musical accompaniment.
-by Stephen Eddins, allmusicguide.com
An established and respected exponent of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's musical depictions of Jiménez' celebrated word paintings, Frank Koonce last released this selection of 17 movements on disc in 1995. He was then working alongside the actor Don Doyle, who offered a suitably wholesome account of the text in its English translation. More than a decade down the line, Koonce revisits the terrain with the poet's words presented in the original Spanish. Given that the movements chosen are the same and the running order, apart from the reversal of Juegos del Anochecer and Idilio de Noviembre, is unchanged, we're essentially addressing a question of the lingo.
Like the majority of monoglot English listeners, my capacity to understand even the most precisely enunciated Spanish is nowhere near good enough to keep up with proceedings here. This means the rich and expressive voice of Brenes, who bursts into song on several occasions, effectively takes on the role of an additional instrument. Once you've gotten used to it, this is no bad thing, for the English translations had two regrettable by-products. First, and most obviously, they inevitably diverted attention from the music, which, as Segovia spotted at the outset, has more than enough depth and diversity to go it alone in a recital programme. The second problem is that the words of Jiménez lose much of their flow in translation. To take just one example from the very first line, 'Platero es pequeño, peludo, suave' may well be informing us in literal terms that our four-legged hero is 'little, shaggy and soft', but I seriously doubt if Jiménez would have put it quite that way if he'd been writing in English as his native tongue. So is there a case to be made for leaving the story of Platero undisturbed in the words his creator understood?
Having just spent a pleasant afternoon in the company of this lavishly presented release, I'm inclined to think so. The booklet includes full translations, although these are perhaps best read separately from the performance. The voice of Brenes and the guitar of Koonce are more than enough in themselves to fire up the imagination.
-by Paul Fowles, Classical Guitar Magazine (UK)
Many years ago, I attended a concert at the North Carolina School of the Arts where the Castelnuovo-Tedesco Platero y yo was performed in its intended form. The blending of the Italian composer's music with the evocative text by Nobel Prize-winning Juan Ramón Jiménez was a wonderful experience. While the guitar works stand on their own very well for the most part, the words are so beautiful that hearing them together is magical. Koonce and Brenes have selected seventeen of the pieces for this disc and each one is a gem. It is hard to imagine how either narrator or guitarist could be bettered. Koonce plays with complete mastery and wonderful expressiveness. Brenes has a glorious speaking voice (and sings nicely at times too) and delivers the text with great drama wile still managing to avoid any "stage-y" histrionics. The recorded sound is beautiful. It may take a minute or two to enter the acoustic world the artist/producers have created, but quickly one enjoys the overall sound and the balance of voice and guitar. It is obvious that being a Spanish-speaker will enhance one's appreciation of this work, but the narration can be appreciated for its sonorities alone. Luckily, comprehension can be guaranteed by a beautifully produced booklet included with the disc. It has Spanish and English texts, and charming illustrations from a 1922 edition of the book. In case it should make a difference to anyone, Brenes delivers the text in very elegant Latin-American Spanish. I like it, but if you are expecting an earful of zetas you will be disappointed!
-by Al Kunze, Soundboard
Nobel laureate Juan Ramón Jiménez's Platero y yo ("Platero and I") celebrates his friendship with a little donkey, as well as life in his natal village of Muguer. I've never read it, but I've known the title for many years. The booklet is a little confusing about the story's form, referring to it as a prose work, yet the quotations accompanying the charming illustrations are obviously intended as poetry. Whatever the form, the book's colorful, sweet, melancholy, and even tragic reflections have earned it enduring popularity. It's often thought of as a children's book, but the author refuted that idea in his prologue to a 1913 abridged edition. Castelnuovo-Tedesco, the composer of over 300 film scores (among them Gaslight and And Then There Were None), responded to the story's dramatic potential by setting 28 of the verses for guitar (Frank Koonce has selected 17 for this disc). Andres Segovia recorded 10, but without the narration which is an important element of the set and of this recording.
Although Nelson Brenes reads the verses beautifully-his inflection, pacing, and occasional singing are moving even in what is for me, a foreign language-I would have liked the producers to have included a second, music only CD. It's possible that I might react differently to an English version, which would make it easier for me to appreciate the interrelation of sound and story. Prospective listeners will have to decide this issue for themselves. In any case, Castelnuovo-Tedesco's music is polished to his usual high standard, unmistakably Spanish, and perfectly suited to the guitar and the story's range of emotions. Soloist Koonce plays superbly with excellent musical instincts, infallibly finding just the right tempo and tone to characterize each moment of the score deftly. (Check to see if there are any other full versions available, verses and all.) The producers have done all they could to make this an elegant release, enclosing the notes, verses, and illustrations in a small book bound into the jewel box. If you don't mind having to hear the narration every time you listen to the music, then there's no reason not to acquire this for yourself.
-by Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare, Sept/Oct 2009