Tres melodías; Esperanza; Coplas de amores; Remembranza; Tres canciones; Villancico (Ledesma); Seis poemas liricos de Juana de Ibarbourou; De Catorce poemas líricos puestos en música; Villancico (Lope); Huerto matutino; Poesas japonesas. Anna Tonna (mezzo-soprano), Jorge Robaina (piano)
Verso VRS 2106 [TT=59:40]
Julio Gómez (1886-1973) was a much-loved member of a generation of composers which also included Turina, Guridi and Donostia. Father of Spain’s leading contemporary musicologist Carlos Gómez Amat, his own work as a teacher, researcher and critic overshadowed his own creative output during a long lifetime; and only in the last few years – not least through the good offices of Verso – has it is been possible to sample his orchestral music and songs on disc.
Not so much a musical nationalist as an outright isolationist, Gómez embraced an introspective, arch-conservative ethic which sets his music poles apart from the progressive Russian, French and German influences felt in the work of those Spanish contemporaries. His unfailing good taste, craftsmanship and detailed responsiveness to poetry merit respect. His music has a strong sense of place and full emotional range, from the florescent melancholy of the Tres canciones of 1920-23 with their driving dance rhythms, to the delicate austerity of the later Japanese settings. What remains elusive is a personal voice able to harness the well-honed technique and sensitive intelligence. If Gómez never frightens the horses, rarely does he set their blood racing.
Yet repeated listening enhances the mild pleasures to be had from these songs – about half his output, presented in chronological order. The performers’ qualities help, too. Anna Tonna can rein in her opulent, firm young mezzo (so excitingly voluminous in the opera and zarzuela house) to delicate effect, and her interpretations – like Jorge Robaina’s pianism – are well varied according to mood and meaning. Just occasionally Tonna is prone to sing a phrase below the note, which jars on repetition: it’s frustrating that time couldn’t be taken to correct these blips in her otherwise first-rate advocacy of a neglected composer. The recording itself is airy and spacious, if marginally distant, and we’re given an English translation of Beatriz Martínez del Fresno’s comprehensive Spanish notes, though not alas of the sung texts.
Gómez is at his most persuasive in the substantial Juana de Ibarbourou settings from 1934, culminating in the radiant Descanso (‘relaxation’) which is perhaps the highlight here, showcasing Tonna’s impressive technique and vocal lustre at their best. Though the piano original wins out in intimacy and distilled emotional power, the composer’s orchestrated version of this same cycle can be heard sung by Susana Cordón with the Spanish National Youth Orchestra, in a desirable 2-CD album from Verso entitled España, de dentro a fuera, alongside works by Lalo, Rimsky-Korsakov, Guridi, Toldrá and others (VS2033). Spanish Song yielded rich romantic pickings, and the best of Gómez’s output deserves to take its place amongst the fruits of the harvest. It’s very good to have this representative and recommendable selection of his vocal works available.
© Christopher Webber 2012