Preludes and Choruses
Chapí: El tambor de granaderos (Preludio); Barbieri: El barberillo de Lavapiés (No.11: "El noble gremio de costureras" - Paloma: Maria José Suarez); Giménez: El baile de Luis Alonso (Intermedio); Chapí: El rey que rabió (No.16: Coro de doctores); Chueca: Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente (Preludio - voice: María Jesús Prieto); Giménez: La boda de Luis Alonso (Intermedio); Chueca: El chaleco blanco (No.5: Seguidillas), El bateo (Preludio); Vives: Bohemios (Intermedio); Caballero: El dúo de la Africana (No.3: "Se marcha furioso"); Luna: El niño judío (Preludio - trumpet solo: César Asensi); Soutullo y Vert: La leyenda del beso (Intermedio), La del soto del Parral (Ronda de enamoradas); Guridi: El caserío (Preludio Act 2); Sorozábal; Don Manolito (Ensalada madrileña).
Zarzuela, that melange of theatrical flavours, lent its name centuries ago to a Spanish stew made from morsels of assorted fish. The word has since come to be applied to almost any sort of tasty mixture, so perhaps it is fitting that many compilations of zarzuela music consist of just such succulent odds and ends.
For this, their welcome first attempt at cocina zarzuelera, Naxos would have been forgiven for sticking to popular meat and potatoes; but in the event their choice of ingredients is pleasantly unhackneyed. Yes, we do get some of the most popular Preludios and Intermedios, well marinated and stylishly presented; but the addition of a chorus gives conductor Miguel Roa - pre-eminent zarzuelero of our day - a chance to toss in some more exotic fare, such as the Coro de doctores from El rey que rabió, and the piquant Ronda de enamorados (Lovers' Round) from La del soto del parral.
Barbieri is represented, inevitably, by a piece from his well-loved El Barberillo de Lavapiés; but the choice falls on a less familiar number, the wistful, coy "Goldfinch Song" of the seamstresses. The distinctive aroma of Basque music graces the pot, too, through the inclusion of Guridi's proudly rhythmic Preludio to Act 2 of El caserío. Like all good chefs, Roa rounds the dish off with a refreshing salad from Sorozábal, Spain's answer to Kurt Weill; not one of his pot-boilers, but the lively Ensalada ('salad medley') of popular Madrid tunes from Don Manolito.
Conductor, musicians and singers score high for culinary execution as well as planning. The orchestra sounds just the right size for a pit band, playing with natural, unforced spontaneity without jeopardising technical precision. Compared against the classic LP versions of the Preludios under Argenta, Frühbeck de Burgos and Sorozábal himself we maybe feel a soupçon of citric zest has gone missing, but Roa's crispness of attack combines well with the clarity of the brand new Naxos recording. Its a pleasure to appreciate so much detail of these composers oft (and wrongly) maligned scoring.
A treat, then, to please even the most fastidious zarzuelero. But I have to report one fly in the soup. The CD will have a wide currency, and it's a pity that so many English-speaking newcomers must be warned off Keith Anderson's clumsy translation of Manuel García Franco's notes. To define zarzuela as "Spanish musical comedy" is a bad enough beginning, but to go on to say that Gaztambide, amongst other more likely suspects, "lacked the technical resources to create anything of value" turns Franco's milder criticism into a bald untruth. A baffling reference to El tambor de granaderos being "one of the best examples of the style of Alicante" is cleared up by reference to the Spanish, which means "one of the best pieces by the musician of Alicante" (i.e. Chapí). Not that Franco himself is free from odd lapses of his own - criticising the "feeble plot" of a work curiously Englished as The Couple of L'Africaine (Which most of us may know better as The Duet from L'Africaine) won't do, for Echegaray's libretto is certainly one of the most brilliant farces in the repertoire.
Well, one little fly scarcely spoils so generous a helping. As for the contents themselves, there's little to add but "Please sir, I want some more!"
© Christopher Webber 2003