Don Quixote in Spanish
400 years on from first publication, the power of Don Quijote to provoke and inspire is undimmed. Naxos’ tribute may have missed the anniversary by a few months, but their unusual and imaginative selection is none the less welcome for that. It’s more unified in theory than in practice. Such a range in styles and imaginative responses, from pictorial to post-modern-sub-textual, makes for a wildly disparate collection, but musical standards are high throughout and Encinar’s momentum bridges the temporal chasms.
García Román’s 1994 piece uses Cervantes’ hero as metaphor: “… the desire to see ride again all those heroes whose very madness just might offer hope to our rather disillusioned society”. His dense textures, leavened by minimalist motor-lyricism and spidery woodwind curlicues, suggest the madness and disillusion better than the hope. Fernández Guerra’s lucid vignettes, composed for a 2005 screening of G. W. Pabst’s 1933 film featuring Chaliapin as Don Quichotte, are a joy. Radiant and piquantly scored, with some Brittenish string and harp sallies, they also finish with the Don’s rebirth from the ashes. After this, Gombau’s prize-winning symphonic poem, sentimental, bombastic and consistently overworking its oddly Smetana-esque thematic material, seems dated. There’s nothing here to frighten Rosinante, but little in its empty nationalism to suggest the composer’s later streak of innovation.
Barbieri’s incidental music for Ventura de la Vega’s 1861 theatrical version is of course the main reason for this present review. It is sunny, slight and Italianate, at least until the jaunty Final, a choral poem in praise of Cervantes as hero of Lepanto where the initial theme has more than a hint of military pasodoble. The tenor Ovillejo has a sweet elegance reminiscent of Sullivan’s almost contemporary music for The Merchant of Venice; the Bailete is lively, anonymous dance music well suited to its practical purpose. These 10 minutes adds a brush stroke or three to our portrait of the Spanish Glinka, but hardly amount to a major rediscovery.
I’ve left the best until last. Ausencias de Dulcinea, a setting of Cervantes’ mourning poem for the absent Dulcinea, is one of the most evocative and impressive things by Rodrigo that I’ve heard, unspoilt by the mechanical note-spinning that disfigures too many of his pieces. Distant fanfares and wistful sarabande rhythms conjure up a world of Hispanic romance, comparable in feeling to Falla’s Retablo de Maese Pedro, but the luxuriant interweaving of the voices is very much Rodrigo’s own – as in his exquisite zarzuela El hijo fingido – and the net effect is enchanting. Begoña Lolo’s sleeve note is packed with useful information, full texts and English translations are included. Naxos’ bold programming deserves success, for the Barbieri revival, sure; but mainly for the Quixotic charms of the beautiful works by Fernández Guerra and Rodrigo.
© Christopher Webber 2007
2 August 2007