Carlos Álvarez - Zarzuela Gala

Carlos Alvarez - Zarzuela Gala (Ensayo)

Ensayo ENY-CD-9811
Timing: 64 minutes

Carlos Álvarez, baritone; Ana Ibarra, soprano,
Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia
Miquel Ortega, conductor

Zarzuela romanzas, dúos and orchestral numbers: La rosa del azafrán (Guerrero); La del manojo de rosas (Sorozábal); La del soto del parral (Soutullo & Vert); Los gavilanes (Guerrero); La revoltosa (Chapí); Maravilla (Torroba); Molinos de viento (Luna); El caserío (Guridi); Luisa Fernanda (Torroba), La canción del olvido (Serrano).

Vocal recitals stand or fall by the personality of the performer, and when that personality is at odds with the chosen material, the results can be anything but pleasurable. It certainly gives me none to say that this CD is a grave disappointment. The very young Carlos Álvarez made his mark in zarzuela, but thirteen years on his dark, stentorian, inflexible bass baritone does a passable imitation of a bull in a china shop. It's not that opera singers can't sing zarzuela, far from it; but many of the romantic romanzas here were written for 'baritenors' such as Marcos Redondo and Luis Sagi-Vela, and Álvarez simply does not have the lightness of touch or tonal variety to bring them to life. The Guerrero items are the worst sufferers, but very few tracks are better than a strenuous workout for singer and listener alike.

The second cause for worry is the state of the dark-velvet voice itself. Its firm nobility is crumbling at unsupported edges, the beat noticeable in Albeniz's Merlin is now a frank wobble where anything less than a full-frontal forte is assayed. The best items here are the numbers from La del soto del Parral and the two Torroba romanzas, where Álvarez's command of the long, sweeping line is given fullest play. Soprano Ana Ibarra, his partner in the three dúos, is in efficient but unremarkable form, and the same may be said of the Galician orchestra under the attentive Ortega. They play Torroba's sugary, late orchestral extraction of the Mazurka from Luisa Fernanda, which proves another brand to the burning. Ensayo's recording is understandably murky - with a voice of this size at such consistently full tilt microphones clearly had to be placed at some distance from the source. The documentation is poor to non-existent. Álvarez would have been better advised to choose repertoire from the operatic end of the spectrum, such as Simón's brooding monologo from La tempestad, and this CD can only be recommended - with caution - to his committed admirers.

© Christopher Webber 2002

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