Basque Music Collection Vol.6 - Sorozabal

Basque Music Collection Vol.VI
Pablo Sorozábal (1897-1988)

Euskalerria (¡Ay, tierra vasca!); Suite vasca Op.5; Gernika; Maite, Eguzki Eder; Dos apuntes vascos; Siete lieder*; Variaciones sinfónicas

*Maite Arruabarrena (mezzo-soprano), Bilbao Choral Society,
Basque National Orchestra, c. Cristian Mandeal

Claves CD 50-2205 (73'33")
(rec. San Sebastian, June and September 2002)


We've reached the 6th issue of Claves's adventurous Basque Music Collection, and I suppose potential buyers will be divided between amazement that this most prominent of native composers didn't emerge earlier in the series, and those who mutter "Pablo Who?". But then, even amongst the millions of Iberians who do know it, the name of Pablo Sorozábal continues to divide opinion. As the last in the line of great zarzuela composers, the inimitable style of his stage legacy thrills many, whilst leaving others cold.

Nothing here will be unknown to Sorozábal aficionados, and everything has been recorded before. Having said which, let me make clear at once that - quite aside from the sheer convenience of gathering seven excellent pieces together - this newcomer sweeps the board in terms of performance, conducting and recording quality. It is a match for any previous issue devoted to Sorozábal's concert output, even counting the composer's own, treasured LP versions. Yet is this highly enjoyable CD more than just an automatic choice for the converted?

What can "Pablo Who?" listeners expect? Well, for a start they won't find much of that trademark bitter-sweet lyricism which has led some critics to praise Sorozábal as a sort of Spanish Kurt Weill. Most of this generously-filled CD is devoted to early pieces from his Leipzig study years; the three, shorter choral items alone date from his maturity, and of these only Maite - a delicate tribute to his Basque homeland in a lilting, 5/8 zortzico rhythm - gives a flavour of the 'real' Sorozábal. It is sung here with a sensual melancholy which is most touching.

The funeral march written as late as 1966 in memory of the infamous Gernika atrocity during the Civil War has a stern, agit-prop austerity - old age was very far from mellowing Sorozábal's acerbity! Plasson (in EMI's disc devoted to Basque choral music) presented it as a study in ice-cold fury, but Gernika seems if anything more impressive for the Rumanian Cristian Mandeal's keeping the anger more firmly under wraps. The 1963 Euskalerria ("¡Ay, tierra vasca!") is a milder revisitation of Maite, so it's perhaps unfortunate that it is placed first on the CD. Having said which, the Bilbao renditions of both zortzicos easily eclipse the penny-plain Madrid versions under Asensio for RTVE.

The longer Suite Vasca, Op.5 (1923) will be familiar from Plasson's spirited version. Oddly reminiscent of Vaughan Williams's Five Tudor Portraits in its alternately rumbustious and tender settings of Emeterio Arrese's folkloristic verse, touches of orchestral and harmonic asperity may point the way forward to Sorozábal's stage masterpiece La del manojo de rosas, but this is a generous and spirited work on its own terms which grows in stature with every hearing. In the outer movements Plasson's tighter acoustic captures an extra degree of choral bite, but Mandeal is more attentive to dynamic and colouristic detail - most notably in the subtle, nocturnal poetry of the lullaby with its magical scoring, more poised here than on the EMI disc. On balance this is the version to have

Pablo Sorozabal

Claves present the first CD recording of Dos apuntes vascos (Two Basque Sketches) from 1925. These miniatures belie their brevity with a fastidious craftsmanship, suggesting that Schönberg's Leipzig vignettes made a stronger impression on Sorozábal's method than his later strictures of atonality lead us to believe. There's a real foretaste here of the mature composer's sometimes ascetic economy of notes, as well as his growing power of lyrical expression.

Dos apuntes takes us on an upward curve into the first of the two best achievements of the Leipzig years - Siete Lieder (1929), seven settings of Heine for mezzo soprano and orchestra. The composer skilfully remoulds Heine's romantic sensibility into something patently Basque and fresh in feeling. This new version is preferable to the composer's own 1973 Zafiro account, which featured the warm-voiced Isabel Penagos, by then perhaps a little past her vocal prime. Mandeal's strong singer is Maite Arruabarrena, more familiar from her recordings with Jordi Savall's Hesperion XXI, but performing attractively here in her native language with ample tone and winning interpretative confidence. Conductor and orchestra prove sensitive, poetic accompanists.

The greatest impression is made by the oft-recorded seven Variations on the Basque tune "Aoriñoa, norat hoa", written two years before the Heine set. Past releases (under the composer on Zafiro, and Luis Izquierdo on Elkarlanean's valuable 2-CD issue of Sorozábal's 1997 Madrid Centenary concert) were engaging, but not wholly convincing for a variety of reasons.

Here the sum is manifestly more than the parts. Mandeal underlines the work's structural strength, pacing each variation beautifully and allowing each its own character without ever losing sight of the symphonic demands of the whole. It is a vivid journey, enlivened by some strong and characterful orchestral playing - not least in the latino opening to the 7th variation, where trumpets and woodwind adopt a mariachi-like rough vigour. In Claves' demonstration-quality recording the work's climaxes are built with compelling logic, and the impact of the triumphant 'homecoming' of the finale is warmly moving.

Cristian Mandeal's is far and away the finest interpretation on record of this most ambitious of Sorozábal's pre-zarzuela works. In the choral works, the Bilbao Choral Society at least equal the precision of their work for Plasson on EMI, almost matching the looser-limbed fervour of the Andra Mari Abesbatza group in the live Elkarlanean versions. Just for the converted? Well, although it offers only subliminal glimpses of Sorozábal's mature musical world, and despite the regrettable lack of texts for the choral works, I recommend this CD most enthusiastically to anyone with the curiosity to discover more about "Pablo Who?"

© Christopher Webber 2003

Selected comparisons:
Gernika, Siete Lieder, Variaciones - Zafiro ZOR-206 (1973 LP, nla) Penagos (sop.), Orq. de Conciertos, c. Sorozábal
Gernika, Suite Vasca - EMI 7243 5 56876 2 (1999 CD) Bilbao Ch. Soc., Toulouse Capitol Orch., c. Plasson
Variaciones sinfónicas, Gernika, Suite Vasca - Elkarlanean KD 491-2 (2-CD) Andra Mari Abesbatza Ch., Madrid SO, c. Luis Izquierdo
Maite, ¡Ay, tierra vasca! - RTVE 64074 (2000 CD) Orq. Sinf. y Coro de RTVE, c. García Asensio

English texts for the "Heine Songs"
zarzuela homepage
Sorozábal biography
cd review


Siete Lieder (Seven Heine Songs)
English Texts

Ay! How much pain,
How much suffering,
not even in dreams
am I able to rest.
Ay! how much I wept,
how much I suffered.
My love, stretched out
I saw you!
dying of distress
I awoke weeping,
and yet when I saw
that all was a dream
yet more, more then I wept.

How much pain
how much suffering,
not even in dreams
am I able to rest.
Your cheating on me
fed into the sad dream
which I conceived last night.
dying of distress
I awoke weeping,
and yet when I saw
that all was a dream
yet more, more then I wept.

Ay! How much pain
how much suffering,
not even in dreams
am I able to rest.
That you were faithful to me,
ideal chimera,
finally! last night I dreamed.
As your mouth was kissing me
I awoke sighing,
and when I found it was only a dream
I wept much more than before.

(Hotz eta isiltsu)
The night is cold and silent,
sad and alone on the road
in the woods I cry for my love.
My plaintive voice broke the silence
and, awoken, the high pines
understood well my sorrow.
Hear me! ...

(Zure moxuan)
In your cheeks Spring
plants the flower;
cold and asleep by contrast
is your heart.
But with time this will change
as you'll see. Ah!
In your cheeks
the white snow will lodge,
within your breast
love's fire will burn you.

4. THE LOTUS FLOWER (Lotoren lorak)
Under the beams of the ardent sun
the lotus flower is very sad;
impatiently suffering pain
until day, at last, is gone.
It saw a light
one lovely night
and by that beautiful star
it was charmed,
poor little flower
longing to rise into the sky
and suffering in the earth
for its sorrow.
And when dawn with her blushes
effaced from the sky her guiding light,
the lotus hidden in the flowers
weeps sadly for grief.

5. UNBELIEF (Ez dot ziñesten)
That heaven is not heaven
in which the sun glitters,
heaven is your soul,
heaven is your noble heart
my heaven of love!
Heaven is your soul and your heart!
That sun is not the sun
which shines on high
with such brilliance,
the sun is your face,
your eyes burn more than the sun
my heaven and my sun!
Your eyes burn my heart!
You are the fate
that in my breast
I guard in an altar
giving me power to dream.
You are first cause
of my love
and my sorrow,
you are all my hope!
You are the queen of the flowers,
you are the goddess of my devotions,
you are my life!
You are my heaven or hell!

(Eres dagie txilibituek)
Melodies combine as they sound,
the flageolets with the drum,
and the laughter of the girls dancing
boisterously offering love.
In the group that leaps without ceasing
dances my beloved ...
Rhythm and music rise together
in happy harmony
and the girls do not cease dancing
until the day dies.

7. ENCHANTING MAY (Agertu-jatan orrila)
Enchanting May
laugh without cease,
bring youth
in your sunshine.
Sing nightingale,
speak in your song
speak of living
and love.
In my heart
hope is born
as in the garden
a flower.
Born of the rose tree
of youth
this beautiful flower
of love.
Enchanting May
laugh without cease
bring youth
in your sunshine.