Enrique Fernández Arbós is known to the Western world primarily as the orchestrator of his friend Isaac Albéniz's piano suite Ibéria; however, within Spain he was a musical colossus, as a conductor, composer, and orchestra builder whose industry was only brought to a halt by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. That Arbós recorded is an even lesser known fact about him than that he composed, and Dutton's Enrique Fernández Arbós conducts Arbós and Other Spanish Composers brings together the recordings he made in 1928 with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, a body he had led since 1905 and continued to direct until the war shut it down. The quality of Dutton's transfers are outstanding, with a judicious amount of reverberation to add a sense of space; not a great deal of bottom end, but no scratch whatsoever that should please many who would normally stay away from such a release owing to the age of the recordings. There was a distinct break in the cultural life in Spain from 1936 to 1945 and at this time very little Spanish literature was established in the international repertoire. That Arbós recorded primarily pieces that have since joined the mainstream -- de Falla's The Three Cornered Hat, Turina's Danzas Fantasticas in excerpt form, and of course, his own arrangements of Ibéria -- makes clear how spot-on Arbós was in determining what was going to stick, and one wonders how much he might have had to do with influencing such determination. His orchestral string sound is surprisingly modern and bears little or no goopy portamento or wobble still common in 1928 even among English orchestras. One aspect of his preferences that may not have survived him was Arbós' approach to rhythm; it is steady, straightforward, dance-like, and light on its feet, whereas in modern performances of these pieces a bit more liberty is generally taken in terms of rubato, with the shape of a given melody influencing the pace at certain points. While the title indicates that "Arbós conduct(ing) Arbós" is an integral part of the show, only one short piece on the program -- Noche de Arabia -- is his, and as its score has disappeared this recording is the only remaining evidence of it.
It is invaluable to have these Arbós recordings in one place, and very little attention has been paid to them overall; Dutton deserves praise for undertaking this project at all, let alone doing such a good job with it.