The second movement of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, the Adagio, is unquestionably one the best-known and most popular pieces in the entire classical-guitar repertoire. Beautiful and haunting, its theme has been adapted by countless musicians since the Concierto was premiered in 1940 by guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza fronting the Orchesta Filarmónica de Barcelona.
Rodrigo was, of course, well aware of the movement’s popularity, so many decades later, he pulled out the theme and wrote a non-symphonic work around it, called Aranjuez, ma pensée, which we feature this week in a splendid two-guitar arrangement played in 2017 by Shaon Isbin and one her protégés, Colin Davin, at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. As many of you are undoubtedly aware, Aranjuez, ma pensée is most often performed by guitarist (or pianist) and a soprano and, indeed, Isbin has also recorded the piece in that form, most recently on her exquisite 2017 album with mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard called Alma Española.
In my Classical Guitar magazine interview with her around that album, Isbin explained, “Rodrigo’s wife, Victoria Kamhi, composed the lyrics in 1988. It was particularly poignant, because while Rodrigo was in the midst of writing the Concierto de Aranjuez, she miscarried what would have been their first child. Not only were they mourning that tremendous loss, but she became quite ill. Rodrigo would come back every night from visiting her in the hospital, and to console himself, would play the beautiful ‘Adagio theme at the piano. She recovered and they went on to have many decades together. I met them at their home in Madrid in 1979, and we shared a 20-year friendship that was very special to me.
“Rodrigo’s daughter Cecilia asked me to make the first recording of the song, which I did on an album with Susanne Mentzer called Wayfaring Stranger . It’s a song that is truly beloved by both performers and audiences.”
The two-guitar version is equally compelling! —Blair Jackson