Reviewed by Christopher Webber
After a worrying hiatus, Aria Recording of Barcelona have produced two more volumes of "recovered voices". No.30, an important 2-CD set devoted to soprano Josefina Huguet, doesn't feature any zarzuela though it does have a dim account of a dúo from Arrieta's opera Marina. Her contribution to the infant recording industry is justly famous. Much less well-known these days is the subject of No. 31 - Catalan tenor Pablo or Pau Civil (1899-1987), a world-class singer whose fame was limited by war in Europe, but who was recognised throughout Italy and Spain for his breathtaking vocal and interpretative talent.
The development of Civil's voice is well charted in Aria's generous collection. Even the earliest (1929) items, the arias from Puccini's Manon Lescaut, glow with that special tenor magic, so rare and yet so instantly recognised. Here and in the duets from La Bohéme, Civil's fresh and visceral appeal are strong if not specially individual. Dynamic nuance and ease above the stave were still to be worked into the mix; but as Civil's career developed, so - and how unusual would this be today - did his vocal art. Already by 1930 in the Mefistofele Quartet there is a true individuality, almost Vickers-like in its clarion ardour, and the top of the voice rings freer. Little wonder he was to triumph, throughout Italy and in Barcelona, in at least the lighter Wagnerian roles such as Lohengrin and Walther in Meistersinger.
Last, epilogue-like, come extracts from two of the zarzuela recordings Civil made for EMI-Odeón in 1952. His classic account of "Mujeres" from an otherwise variable Los Claveles is already available as part of EMI's zarzuela series, and these five extracts from Luisa Fernanda (one of those LP sets in which Torroba regretably mucked around his lucid orchestral originals) and Doña Francisquita don't quite match that. By this time Civil's vocal powers were on the wain. The tone is coarser if no less individual, more strained above the stave, thinner below it. But if he tends to barge through the subtleties of Fernando's romanza from Doña Francisquita like a warship under full sail, Javier's solo from Luisa Fernanda still shows him off thrillingly. Civil's big voice is apt to swamp his lighter soprano partner in the two dúos with Lolita Torrentó, but mezzo Rosario Gómez matches him pound for pound in a tempestuous "¡Escúchame!" from the Vives work which remains well worth hearing.
Aria are back in business, and this is one of their most revealing issues. Full biographical notes and scrupulous documentation of the recordings, in English and Spanish as well as Catalan, frank its value. We are in Aria's debt for recovering this particularly fine voice from the archives; and with tenorial stocks currently at a premium, Pau Civil's fame would assuredly be much wider today than it was in his own, turbulent times.
© Christopher Webber 2004