Almaviva, Autor, RTVE, Guild, Banco de Sonido, AudioGenia, DiscMedi Blau

2007 Review Roundup

... CDs which slipped through the net
reviewed by Christopher Webber and Ignacio Jassa Haro

Manuel García, Manuel Sirera's Mis Zarzuelas favoritas, O Crux – Spanish Choral Music from Coro Cervantes, Julián Bautista, Xavier Montsalvatge, Bilbao Accordion Orchestra, Ensamble de Madrid, Banda Municipal de Albacete, Voces de Zarzuela, Por amor: Gallego y Bros

Manuel García
El poeta calculista (monologue-opera); La declaración (tonadilla); El majo y la maja (tonadilla)
Mark Tucker (tenor), Ruth Rosique (soprano), Orquesta ‘Ciudad de Granada’, Andrea Marcon (c.)
Almaviva 2-CD DS-0144 [c. 95:00]

Singer, teacher, composer and unofficial ambassador for his country in the early years of the 19th century, the Sevillian Manuel García cuts quite a figure. Rossini’s favourite tenor, he created a host of roles, notably Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Much of his own music is in impersonal Italian or French style, but the two tonadillas written in García’s early Madrid years contain more obvious Spanishry than his later operas. They are Little Ado About Nothing, pretty pieces prettily rendered by Rosique and Tucker. The latter has the stage to himself for El poeta calculista, a near hour-long tour de force intended to impress Parisian audiences. It certainly did. A mixture of spoken word, recitative and arias in a variety of styles, it culminates in a solo “duet” (tenor and falsetto soprano) of virtuoso difficulty, as our poet works out the plot of his romantic magnum opus. Tucker’s strong lyric tenor carries the day with the requisite skill, Pepe Cantero's acting of the spoken part is good, Marcon’s orchestral support is alert; and with libretti, translations and full notes duplicated on both CDs to follow onscreen, this is a valuable issue. [CW]

Mis Zarzuelas favoritas
Romanzas by Mediavilla, Chapí, Luna, Barrera & Calleja, Vives, Guridi, Guerrero, Serrano; dúos by Serrano, Torroba, Sorozábal; orchestral/choral numbers by Barbieri, Chueca & Valverde
Manuel Sirera (tenor), Carmen Solís (soprano), Orquesta Sinfónica y Coro de RTVE, Adrian Leaper (c.)
RTVE- Música 65287 [55:00]

This sequel to the media-popular singer’s 1995 RTVE album of Granny’s Favourites (nla) inhabits familiar Fleta-Kraus “second tier” territory, judiciously done. Manuel Sirera commands an even, secure and personable spinto throughout his range which gives much satisfaction. It’s a mystery why a light, supple voice this pleasant hasn’t been picked up by stage companies, too often starved of tenorial quality. The caveat concerns character. One song is put over much like the next, with diminishing returns. Change is rung by preludes and choruses (including the catchy pasacalle from Cádiz), and dúos featuring the smoky, lyric soprano of Carmen Solís. Her contribution makes one sit up and notice what’s lacking in Sirera’s own comparatively safe-and-solid musical personality. In the end, he’s in the Bernabé Marti rather than Alfredo Kraus bracket, but there’s no disgrace in that and his CD yields more pleasure than many of its kind. [CW]

O Crux – Spanish Choral Music
Sacred choral works by Albéniz, Granados, de Falla, Goicoechea, Vives, Sor, Bretón, Eslava, Pedrell, Barbieri, Ledesma, Arriaga, Monasterio
Coro Cervantes (d. Carlos Fernández Aransay), Tansy Castledine (organ)
Guild GMCD 7243 [79:38]

Coro Cervantes is an English vocal ensemble, founded in 1996 under the auspices of the London Instituto Cervantes. Their director is a major London champion for Hispanic music and culture, and he has put together an imaginative programme of short sacred works (many, amazingly, being recorded for the first time) by most of Spain’s important 19th century composers. Hearing these intense and harmonically dark meditations performed with such musicality in the warm acoustic of Exeter College Oxford, it’s hard not to reflect on the sheer quantity of worthwhile work – even by such world-famous names as Albéniz and Granados – which remains lodged in dusty vaults. Personal character in these pieces is subsumed in reverent humility, but the choral writing is uniformly fine: amongst a host of jewelled vignettes I’d single out Bretón’s dignified Salve montserratina, with its imaginative base of Gregorian chant; Granados’s sensual Salve Regina, harmonically anticipating some of the astringencies of Poulenc; and at the other end of the scale, Barbieri’s Verdian theatrics and Vives’s sweet O Salutaris, a ray of operatic sunshine lifting for a moment the veil of candle-lit gloom. Altogether, a beautiful and absorbing disc. [CW]

Julián Bautista
Obras sinfónicas. Obertura para una ópera grotesca (1932); Sinfonía Breve (1956); Suite de danzas de Juerga (1943); Estrambote, sobre un tema de Arbós (1934); Suite all’antica Op.11 (c.1932)
Orquestra simfònica de Barcelona i nacional de Catalunya, c. Salvador Brotons
Autor SAO1247 [61:19]

Another composer lost to Spain through the Civil War, after a promising early career in his native Madrid Bautista spent the last twenty years of his life teaching in Argentina and Puerto Rico. Though praised at the time, and admired by such influential musicians as Pablo Casals, his work had sunk into oblivion before the emergence of this highly enjoyable CD. His personality may oscillate between the twin stars of middle-period de Falla and neo-classical Stravinsky, with a side-light from early Ginastera, but all these pieces pulsate with colour and rhythmic life. The Sinfonía Breve is the most substantial, and its sharply focussed sensitivity to instrumental colour makes one keen to hear some of the composer’s substantial body of chamber music. Despite its lack of individual imprint, with such enthusiastic playing and up-front recording, Bautista’s music gives enormous pleasure. [CW]

Xavier Montsalvatge
Sinfonía de Réquiem (1985) ¹, Cinco invocaciones al Crucificado (1969) ², Questions and Answers (1979) ³.
¹Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León; ²Francesc Garrigosa (tenor), Grupo Círculo; ³Grupo de metales Madrid Brass. All c. José Luis Temes
Autor SAO1331 [61:53]

This tribute to Catalunya’s late, Elder Statesman looks like a pick and mix. The three works are very different in shape and size and don’t sit easily together, the Sinfonía being recorded in 2004, the rest as long ago as 1992. Worse, Autor have mucked up the mastering, inserting two-second gaps between the (continuously played) movements of the main orchestral work and introducing bad sonic overloads throughout. All the more frustrating, when in all other respects they have come up with a winner. Though far from the first recording of the Sinfonía de Réquiem, this is the best. A late addition to the 20th century series of angry elegies which takes in Britten’s similarly named work, Honegger’s Symphonie Liturgique and Martin’s Petite Symphonie Concertante, Monsalvatge’s intense reflection on death starts in hell and ends – like the Britten and Honegger works – in a nirvana-paradise, all passion spent. Performed with such bitter bite and momentum, it sounds well worthy a place alongside those masterpieces. The astringent religious meditations, bare-bones quasi-mediaeval scoring contrasted against an opulent vocal line, fervently declaimed by Garrigosa, are just as powerful. Questions and Answers also utilises renaissance themes, from the composer commemorated by the London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble, which commissioned these sardonic vignettes in 1980. Montsalvatge can sound dryly monochrome, but not here. What a shame such a revelatory disc should be marred by Autor’s infuriating technical flaws. [CW]


De norte a sur / y … de este a oeste
Arrangements for accordions by Amagoia Loroño of zarzuela and opera extracts by Guridi, Alonso, Chapí, Soutullo & Vert,   Bizet, Sorozábal, Padilla, Chueca; plus adaptations of works by anon., Albéniz, Lara, Porlan, S. López, A. Álvarez, F.Saez, X. Montes, Larregla, Donostia, J. Franco, A. Roig
Orquesta sinfónica de acordeones de Bilbao, d. Amagoia Loroño
RTVE Música 65241 [73:41] / RTVE Música 65284 [62:50]

CDs for the zarzuelero who thought they had everything? I have to admit that I approached a brace of discs, each devoted to over an hour of unrelieved mass accordions, with anti-depressants at the ready. Not a bit of it: chuck them away and get your uppers here. The arrangements are clever and effective, the ensemble’s sound quality (augmented only by string bass, percussion and the occasional discreet touch of synthesiser) resembles a gargantuan organillo, but closer to the human voice in its ability to “breathe”; the playing is simply tremendous. Only the most curmudgeonly fan could fail to be wooed and won by the brilliant romp through the Marche militaire Intermedio from Black el Payaso; the lilting zortzicos by Guridi, Alonso and Sorozábal; the moving simplicity of the traditional Basque “Boga Boga” – not to mention a host of familiar pasacalles, pasodobles and marchas. In theory we have here two “musical journeys”, the first South from the Basque lands to Andalusia, the second from the same starting point to Galicia and beyond, but in practise the programmes are more or less interchangeable. The pretext is immaterial: Amagoia Loroño and her formidably talented Bilbao ensemble provide two of the most unusual and enjoyable Spanish musical treats for many a year. Good recorded sound. Great music making! [CW]

Zarzuela en formato de cámara, vol. 1
Arrangements for Piano Sextet. Works by Barbieri, Giménez, Chueca y Valverde, Caballero, Chapí
Ensamble de Madrid, Fernando Poblete (artistic co-ordinator)
Banco de Sonido/Concerto XXI Producciones BS 070 CD [49:05]

The veteran Madrid chamber group has an ambitious new project: the complete recording of its vast repertoire of zarzuela selections for piano sextet. This first issue captures a concert programme performed in Auditorium Conde Duque, Madrid on April 27 2007. It has the same degree of technical and artistic excellence we’ve come to expect from the Ensamble’s previous releases on RTVE- Música and Autor. Two selections from works new to the discography stand out for fine interpretation and musical beauty: Enseñanza libre (Giménez) and De Madrid a París (Chueca and Valverde), as does the repertory classic El dúo de La africana. In every case the pot-pourri of melodies is deliciously played, stylish in dynamic nuance and phrasing. We eagerly await the promised next two volumes. [IJH]

Zarzuela - Preludios, pasacalles, pasodobles y seguidillas
Works by Chueca & Valverde, Chapí, Chueca, Barbieri, Soutullo & Vert, Giménez, Marqués
Banda municipal de Albacete, Fernando Bonete Piqueras (director)
Audiogenia/Ayuntamiento de Albacete AG009 [49:38]

The Albacete Municipal Band presents us with a surprising new disc of zarzuela transcriptions by its chief conductor, Fernando Bonete. The standouts here for vitality and freshness (inevitably with a band from La Mancha!) are the seguidillas from works such as Pan y toros, El barberillo de Lavapiés and El chaleco blanco; and the pasacalles and pasodobles from El año pasado por agua, La alegría de la huerta, Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente, Cádiz and the rest. Less interesting listening (though no less correctly interpreted) are the intermedios and preludios, except for the uncommon overture to El anillo de hierro. Bonete’s baton ensures precise rhythms and just tempos, conjuring a range of subtle wind-band colours that lends great quality to these inspired numbers. [IJH]

Voces de Zarzuela
Works by Soutullo & Vert, Chapí, Penella, Calleja & Barrera, Barbieri, Guerrero, Vives, Pérez Soriano, Luna, Caballero, Bretón, Sorozábal, Torroba, Literes, Giménez, Serrano, Chueca
Carlos Álvarez, Ainhoa Arteta, Ana María Sánchez, María José Montiel, Alfredo Kraus, Pilar Lorengar, Plácido Domingo, María Bayo, Susana Cordón, Rodrigo Esteves, Manuel Sirera, Jesús Castejón, Antonio Ordóñez, María Rodríguez, Inmaculada Egido, Milagros Poblador, Ricardo Muñiz, Francisco Matilla, Miguel Sola. Orquesta Sinfónica de RTVE, Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla, Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León, Orquesta Romanza Española. Coro de RTVE. Juan José Ocón, Enrique García Asensio, Luis Antonio García Navarro, Miquel Ortega i Pujol, Benito Lauret, Jesús López Cobos (conductors)
RTVE-Música 65280 [60:01 + 62:26]

In amongst RTVE-Música’s rich catalogue of zarzuela recitals are enough unforgettable moments (along with others less so!) to make for a double album providing an extensive tour of Spanish stage music. Though several orchestras and conductors are involved the “house orchestra” and Enrique García Asensio (chief conductor for many years) take the lion’s share. If I could choose just one thing from these discs it would be Plácido Domingo in the 1991 Gala de Reyes, accompanied by the Madrid Symphony Orchestra in three exciting appearances on an exceptional night. Although the actual recording has a thin, tinny sound, it shows the Madrid tenor at the zenith of his career exhibiting extraordinary vocal power and communicability. And if I had to lose something I would not hesitate to erase the three appearances from Alfredo Kraus in what was the last recording of his career, at a gala in the Zaragoza Auditorium in October 1998. Already mortally ill, el canario reveals a terribly tired voice though, of course, he conserved his technique and undoubted elegance to the end. [IJH]

Por amor: María Gallego – José Bros. Romanzas y dúos de zarzuela. Live from El Escorial
Works by Chueca, Luna, Guerrero, Giménez, Caballero, Soutullo y Vert, Torroba, Serrano, Vives, Guridi, Puccini, Lara
María Gallego (soprano), José Bros (tenor), Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid, David Giménez Carreras (c.)
Discmedi Blau DM4192-02 [65:16]

Out of conjugal love, José Bros shared the bill with his wife in this Festival Febrero Lírico recital from El Escorial. María Gallego is a stylish performer with a well-schooled voice who retired a few years ago to look after the children, so as not to prejudice her husband’s career. Now she’s back on the stage it is certainly not in zarzuela where she walks most securely. Her contributions here convey a languid lack of verve, with the exception of the dúo from El caserío, where she treads more operatic terrain. In fact her excursion into Gianni Schicchi stands well above her zarzuela tracks. Bros, though, shows here how zarzuela holds no mysteries for him, although it must be said that he opts for a list of powerful dúos and romanzas which have always served as showcases for his huge personality in phrasing and expression. David Giménez Carreras inspires the orchestra (which features three outstanding soloists in familiar preludios and intermedios) to give talented support to the singers, and their sound is brilliant and well-balanced. [IJH]

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14 February / 2 March 2008