Victoria de los
Songs by Mendelssohn,
Grieg, Brahms, Dvorak, Martini, Hahn, Delibes, Trad. arr. Stanford, Sadero,
Iradier (La paloma), Ovalle (Azulão) – all orch. Douglas Gamley;
Luna (“De España vengo” El niño
judío); Chapí (“Carceleras” Las hijas del
Zebedeo). Sinfonia of London
EMI Classics Great Artists of the Century 3 56532 2 [TT=79.48]
I thought I knew Victoria de los Angeles’ Zarzuela Arias too well to get excited about hearing them again, but how wrong can you be? Such artistry, of the kind which conceals art, soon had me sitting down to savour the familiar dishes with renewed admiration and delight. Familiarity breeds content. It’s not just her inimitable, smiling vocal charm: if alertness to verbal and musical nuance, attention to differing demands of style and technical mastery mean anything – and they do – this has to be simply the greatest recital of zarzuela songs ever recorded.
This time around I was specially impressed by the symbiosis between soloist and conductor; and by the imagination which allows de los Angeles to paint such deft portraits, from cheeky Grabie with his suggestively rhythmic song of the tarantula, through sly-kitten Menegilda to the most touching, vulnerable portrait of Pilar in Gigantes y cabezudos, the girl in despair because she cannot read the letter from her soldier in far-off Cuba. Teresa Berganza may match her for passion in Los Claveles, as brooding Rosa murders time waiting for feckless Fernando in a downtown bar, but when it comes to wit (Barbieri) or understated erotic teasing (Lleó) de los Angeles is in a class by herself. Previous LP and CD incarnations have sounded unfocussed, dynamically flat or mushy, so the nicest surprise is to note how well balanced and clear Ian Jones’ remastering of the 1967 Madrid recording sounds. It’s great to have the varnish removed.
Better still, EMI have squeezed another much-loved LP onto the disc. On Wings of Song (A World of Song in its LP original) was a whistle-stop vocal tour recorded in London during April 1964. The recording quality here was more forward, brighter and spot-lit – epithets which also apply to some of Douglas Gamley’s orchestrations. The singer herself was on virtuoso form, sometimes fining down vibrato for dramatic effect, often employing a greater range of tonal colour than usual. The two extra zarzuela items here (in their original scoring) remain astonishing pyrotechnic pleasures. Chapí’s Carceleras has been lucky on record, but Andrew Lamb’s affectionate and accurate notes rightly point to de los Angeles’ “supremely controlled vocal acrobatics” and the way she never allows flamboyant patriotic fervour to undermine the musical perfection of Luna’s “De España vengo”.
If Lamb’s notes are a plus, the inclusion of full bilingual song texts deserves great gratitude, especially given such a well-packed reissue. Though Nigel Glendinning’s English translations for the Zarzuela Arias sometimes bemuse (“The Early Bird” for the headstrong La tempranica??) he often captures the lively spirit of the Spanish originals better than the dead letter; and how many more recent zarzuela recital albums have even bothered to include those vital texts at all? Such wondrous singing certainly warrants the loving care EMI have expended on this reissue, a pearl way beyond its modest price.
© Christopher Webber 2006