V.S. Pritchett in his autobiography Midnight Oil writes of Madrid in the 1920s: the grinding and rattling over cobbles in the taxi from North Station, staying at a hotel where the central heating seemed to be “puffing out thick waves of hot olive oil,” passing enormous cold churches lit only by altar candles, hearing the croaking sounds of mule teams straggling across the city, and the grinding processions of baby trams traveling as if for protection in bunches . . .  The place, he thought, seemed shut in some “pinched and backward” part of the nineteenth century, many mournful people in the street all in black, although there were the pot-bellied flaneurs in the cafes, and for some people that he got to know “the minutes poured through life like sand in an hourglass that had no hours.” Primo de Rivera, Pritchett says, was a lazy dictator, bent on seeing that nothing happened in his country.

And then there was the Spaniards’ passionate music, “classical” and “folk” very much intertwined; and a very good Madrid Symphony Orchestra led by the composer-conductor E. F. Arbos, a handsome devil with waxed mustache. Columbia Records was José on the spot in the late Twenties and made a number of “78” sides (eventually on CD), enough at least to give us a good overview of the vibrations of charm and passion that must have nibbled, dangerously and enchantingly, at that mournful indolence Pritchett felt so strongly.

And then of course there must have been some deep connection between all this cultural Night and Day.

Arbos the composer is represented by his sultry and incandescent Arabian Nights intermezzo, a fateful piece of upmarket pops fare, superior cinema music. In de Falla’s Three Cornered Hat the stamping and sinuous miller’s dance could not be more vivid in its echt-Spanish atmosphere, and the big finale that follows struts and whirls under the influence of what is obviously a magnetic baton. Best of all, perhaps, is the tingling erotic leggiero with which Arbos brings off Turina’s La Procesion del Rocio. Then there’s the one non-Spanish bit, Corelli’s best-known sarabande, a tad gluey thanks to intermittently retro string articulation (aka portamento) but performed with the delicacy and passion of a conductor with soul.  Of course I’d love to know what V.S.P. would have said about these performances, it would have been the last word.