La Voz Prodigiosa de
Once in a while a singer emerges whose fame extends way beyond the confines of the opera house, a singer whose humanity touches chords in his compatriots across the usual bounds of taste and musical artistry, whose work seems rooted in the very soul of a nation. Such were Irish tenor John McCormack, English contralto Kathleen Ferrier; and such also was Marcos Redondo (1893-1976), the great Spanish baritone commemorated here in Blue Moon's handsomely presented 5-CD anthology.
What is Redondo's secret? First, of course, his was a great voice, evenly produced through its unusually extended baritone range, inimitable in timbre, sensitive but robust. Then there was his interpretative skill; that impeccable diction, that tonal variety ranging from round amplitude to tenorial nasal intensity, that uncanny ability to make even second-rate music reflect humanity's deepest hopes and sorrows. Last, uniquely, that touching sense of humility. Significantly, Alejandro Melón ends his introductory essay not with an encomium of Redondo the artist, but with a salute to the man: in James Pearse's clear English translation: "his biggest merit, his most notable 'glory' and certainly the most valuable, was that he was A GOOD PERSON in the most complete sense of the term". This humility lies at the heart of Redondo's special power.
With up to five or six different versions of some classic romanzas to choose from, mostly of the highest standard, Jordi Pujol and his team have sensibly fixed on the years between 1923 and 1944 when the baritone was at the peak of his powers.
The first four CDs are almost exclusively given over to zarzuela romanzas and songs in similar style, arranged in broadly alphabetical order. Several recordings will be familiar to Blue Moon fans from earlier Serie Lírica issues, but many more will be new. Redondo 'standards' from the 1920s and 30s, such as the Hymn to Liberty from La calesera and the Song of the Sower from La rosa del azafrán, rub shoulders with lesser-known contemporary pieces by forgotten maestros such as Zamacois and Rebollo, and with once-famous showpieces from 19th century works such as Arrieta's El grumete and Caballero's Las dos princesas.
Of the rarities, amongst the most seductive are the pair of numbers from Cuban Eliseo Grenet's La virgen morena, with its sensual, percussive Afro-Spanish rhythms; the impressively sustained sweep of "En mi ausencia" from Barbieri's neglected El diablo en el poder; and the martial fervour of the Song to Castile from Luna and Torroba's collaborative La pastorela. Redondo's work is superbly consistent, though the greatest of the familiar recordings still stand out - his manic bitterness and uncanny breath control in Puck's jealous outburst "Se reía" from Las Golondrinas; the suave tongue-in-cheek elegance of his Caballero in La Gran Vía; his heartrending intensity at the climax of the (originally tenor) Madrigal from La picarona ... yet so many other tracks are almost equally compelling.
Significant Omissions? Not many. Redondo's Torroba recordings are under-represented, Luisa Fernanda notably absent - though of course his 'highlights' set is available on BMCD 7522. Then I for one miss the astounding lightness of touch he displayed in the Italianate comedy bravura of Lleó's El maestro campanone. The last few minutes of CD4 and the whole of 5 are devoted to the revista and musical comedy songs. This certainly rounds out the range of his work, but pleasant though many of these numbers are, a selection from the dúos Redondo recorded with artists of the calibre of Ofelia Nieto, Cora Raga and Conchita Supervía would have extended the appeal of the box further. The set culminates in a neat tribute to Redondo the occasional composer, with the serenata Noche de Luna and two numbers from his own zarzuela La tuna de Alcalá ("The Alcalá Loiterer") from 1929.
Criticisms? Though there's plenty of vocal variety on show, the alphabetical arrangement means that we sometimes have to traverse vasty plains of melancholy romanzas comparatively unrelieved by shafts of vocal sunshine. The gaps between tracks are much too short to allow pause for appreciative thought. Otherwise, praise is due to Jordi Pujol for the bright immediacy of his transfers, which clearly supersede those of the famous old 2-LP Columbia set (they're more reliably pitched, too!) Having said which, we might still hanker after the richness and depth of those earlier transfers ... but, to be fair, that is pretty much down to the superiority of the older medium!
Just to add icing to Blue Moon's substantial cake, their documentation is full and fine. Aside from Melón's introductory essay and its translation, we are given a long and well-written biographical article by Xavier Quiñones, in Spanish only, interspersed with a generous selection of imaginatively chosen photographs of Redondo in and out of performance, from boyhood to serene old age. All original catalogue and matrix numbers are provided, as well as a full index to all 100 tracks.
© Christopher Webber 2002