After an ominous gap of four years, Homokord have released three further volumes in their zarzuela series. As in some earlier issues couplings are eccentric - though as all three feature original cast highlights from lesser-known, post-Civil War zarzuelas paired with pre-war recordings of classics, perhaps a logic of sorts is emerging.
With one striking exception, all these recordings have already made it to CD, in Blue Moon's much more extended Serie Lírica. Homokord's lookalike presentation likewise includes short synopses and full texts, though unaccountably no dates or references for the original recordings, or even timings for individual tracks. Given the inescapable duplication, what sort of case is there for adding these Homokord discs to the specialist, let alone representative, collection?
Vol.9 begins with substantial highlights from Francisco Alonso's 1939 sainete lírico Rosa la pantalonera, a lightweight revista-style piece set in contemporary Madrid which not surprisingly lacks the melodic punch of his pre-war successes. There's an amusing Dúo Comico which opens with a cheeky snatch of Cavaradossi's "E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca and segues into Saint-Saens's Dance Macabre; tenor Alfredo Muelas and soprano Mathilde Vázquez do their best with the lyric numbers; but Rosa never quite takes off. The Homokord transfer, gentler on the ear than Blue Moon's brightly one-dimensional version (BMCD 7511), has a glassy penumbra suggestive of over-processing.
The temperature rises with La verbena de la Paloma, substantial extracts under Daniel Montorio recorded in 1931 by a top-notch cast led by Pepe Romeu's ultra-romantic and communicative Julian, Sélica Pérez Carpio's withering Susana (she also sings the Soleares) and Eduardo Marcén's highly salacious Don Hilarión. Blue Moon's transfer (BMCD 7550) was ruined by drastic pitch fluctuations, so it's a relief to welcome Homokord's smooth if over-processed version in its stead.
The coupling is the disappointing near-complete Bohemios scrappily recorded under Gelabert in 1931. Tino Folgar's Roberto was the main draw, but sadly his distinctive light tenor for once failed to come up to scratch, both tuning and technique buckling under pressure. The rest of the cast cannot compare with the roughly contemporary version under Capdevila (Aria 1015) led by Marcos Redondo in warm, sympathetic form as a baritone Roberto. Anyone who already has this Folgar version, more suitably coupled by Blue Moon with Vives's late Los Flamencos (BMCD 7551) in a transfer of comparable presence albeit slightly more edge, need not purchase this duplicate.
His Margarita is Felisa Herrero, passionate and sensual as always, surprisingly dextrous in a role which might have been thought a shade light for her strong lyric soprano. Her dúo with the equally focussed Romo of Delfín Pulido has serious wit to equal any rival, and the depth of experience to eclipse them all. Only Manuel Hernández's tenor cómico Cabo Stok is - well, stock. The recording is well balanced for its age (presumably early 1930's?) and the transfer is comfortable if lacking in sap.
Serrano's posthumous Golondina de Madrid is thin gruel, no match for other late works such as Los Claveles or La dolorosa, so little wonder it scarcely enjoyed even a succès d'estime at its premiere. The original cast was not altogether top line, but the selection of highlights here is pleasant enough and the transfer smoother than on BMCD 7453 - though curiously Homokord omit the attractive Preludio included on that Blue Moon issue.
Good though it is to welcome Homokord back, non-specialists might choose to pass on Vol.10. Vol.9 is worth the outlay for Homokord's superior transfer of the vivid Romeu/Pérez Carpio Verbena highlights. Vol.11 will be required listening for the outstanding Molinos de viento, a set which deserves consideration from anyone looking to supplement their stereo version with a classic account of Luna's well-loved score. And next time, please, more details on the original recordings!
© Christopher Webber 2003