The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores

CD Review: Enrique Ugarte

Accordion Champion
Plays Bolero, Sabre Dance, Czardas

Enrique Ugarte, accordion


Sabeltanz (A. Khachaturian)
Schwarze Augen (Traditional)
Eine kleine Nachtmusik (W.A. Mozart)
Der Bauernhof - Praludium - Preludio de El Caserio (J. Guridi)
Preludio (A. Volpi)
Bolero (M. Ravel)
Jugoeslavia (Traditional)
Aranjuez (J. Rodrigo)
Alborada gallega (Traditional)

Total Time: 41:14
Released in 1991
Review number and date: No. 40: March 1997

Label: ARC Music (EUCD 1151)
PO Box 111
East Grinstead
West Sussex RH19 2YF
Great Britain

Eiffestr. 422
2000 Hamburg 26

PO Box 11288
Oakland CA 94611

Review by Henry Doktorski:

When I first received this CD in the mail, I took one look at it and groaned, "Oh no, not another self-proclaimed accordion "champion" playing standard stradella-bass war-horse transcriptions!"

Why did I think this? For two reasons: 1) the cover photo and 2) the contents.

The cover shows a photo of a handsome twenty-thirty year old smiling man in black suit and silk scarf standing in front of a huge red curtain which looks as if it was spattered with gold paint. He is standing on one leg, his back is tilted back from the waist at a forty-five degree angle while the knee from his other leg is lifted high in the air with his foot resting on top of his Dallape piano accordion!

"How tacky!" I thought. "Would Van Cliburn pose with his foot on his piano? Would Isaac Stern pose with his foot on his violin? He looks like a nightclub entertainer; not a serious classical accordionist."

I glanced at the contents and immediately noted Sabre Dance and Dark Eyes; pieces every American kid in the 1950's and 60's played from the Palmer-Hughes accordion method books, plus some other well-known pieces like Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Adamo Volpi's Preludio, Joaquin Rodrigo's Aranjuez, Maurice Ravel's Bolero, etc.

I thought, "Do I have to listen to this album? Maybe I can just listen to the Mozart track. If it's no good I have a good excuse to skip the rest of the album."

I've performed Eine kleine Nachtmusik myself on a number of occasions; it is very difficult to perform convincingly on stradella accordion, due to it's many interesting contrapuntal voicings (it was originally written by Mozart for string quartet).

I pushed the button for track three on my CD player and waited. In a few seconds I was treated to a faithful and fairly accurate transcription (Ugarte's own) of one of Mozart's most famous pieces. I was surprised and delighted. Ugarte knows how to play Mozart beautifully, sensitively and with respect, despite the limitations of the stradella accordion. *

Of course, I had a different opinion about some parts of his transcription: I would have played the melody legato instead of staccato in measures five through eight, but everything else he played was wonderful. Very nice bellow shakes and clever alternation of left hand chords to suggest the voicings in the second violin and cello parts. I decided that he was not just any ordinary player.

The rest of the album got better and better. Sabre Dance is fiery, Dark Eyes is plaintive and dramatic, Bolero is very good. It is not easy playing a piece on accordion which was originally written for a hundred-plus piece orchestra with huge string, brass and percussion sections, but I must admit Ugarte does a fine job.

Adamo Volpi's Preludio, written in the late 1940's, is the only piece on the album which was composed specifically for accordion. Volpi wrote it, note for note, in the baroque style and could very well have modeled it after the famous Toccata in D Minor for organ by J.S. Bach. Ugarte plays it convincingly on his portable free-reed "chamber organ" (one of my favorite terms for "concert accordion").

His choice of registrations (especially at the cadenza) and his use of terraced dynamics at measure 41 (not notated in the score) are perfectly consistent with 18th century Baroque performance practices. I have not heard Volpi's Preludio played more beautifully by anyone else.

The only thing I didn't like was that the engineers turned up the reverb so high for this piece (to imitate the ambience of a large cathedral) that many passages lost their definition and became blurred. It seemed to me inconsistent to vary the reverb levels so much (from mild to heavy) between adjacent pieces one one album.

After all was finished, I concluded that Ugarte actually is an accordion champion, as stated in the title of the CD. The booklet notes inform us that Ugarte (born in the Basque region of Spain in 1957) has won the following awards:

National Accordion Champion of Spain
Winner "Coupe de Noel" in Paris
European Accordion Champion in Holland
Vice-Champion, World Accordion Championships in Recanati, Italy

I recommend this album for classical accordion lovers.

* Small wonder Ugarte knows proper style and interpretation; he studied composition and oboe at the Conservatorio Superior De Musica in San Sebastian, and conducting under Sergiu Celibidache in Mainz Germany.

About The Free-Reed Review
Invitation to Contributors / Submission Guidelines

Back to The Free-Reed Review Contents Page

Back to The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Home Page