Adios a la Bohemia (Sorozábal)

Teresa Berganza, Manuel Ausensi, Victor de Narke. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Pablo Sorozábal
BMG Alhambra WD 74386

Pilar Lorengar, Renato Cesari, Manuel Gas. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, c. Pablo Sorozábal
EMI 7243 5 74345 2 2

Soraya Chaves, José Julián Frontal, Iñaki Fresán, Alfredo García, Coral Andra Mari de Renteria, Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, c. Luis Izquierdo
Elkarlanean KD-491/2 (2CD set, with orchestral works)

Sorozábal's early collaboration with the great novelist Pío Baroja produced a miniature opera for a handful of characters. Lasting about 45 minutes, this bitter-sweet slice of Madrid Bohemian life has a serious point, questioning the idea of realismo - realism. Is living without a dream desirable? Is it practicable? Most of the piece is taken up with a dialogue between a painter (baritone) and a street walker (soprano), and the quality of their music is high.

Both performances under the composer are recommendable. In 1958 the young Lorengar and Cesari made a most sensitive team, offering a subtle dramatic interplay which the later 1975 version does not match. Having said which, the later recording is absolutely complete, including the important snatches of spoken dialogue over music, and its sound is much superior. De Narke's Beggar runs Gas close in the prologue; Ausensi is by no means insensitive; and Berganza brings a depth of musical experience to her role which is miraculously absorbing, lending the whole ópera chica far greater amplitude than the touchingly sentimental sketch suggested by the earlier recording.

The recent issue from Basque label Elkarlanean should not be lightly dismissed. The clear, full (if marginally distant) live recording from the 1997 Centenary Concert performance in Madrid reveals the transparency of Sorozábal's orchestration to a degree the older versions cannot match. Though Chaves does not eclipse her illustrious predecessors as Trini, Frontal is a fine Ramón whose light, youthful timbre gives him the edge over his rivals. Fresán's old beggar is perhaps too like him in timbre, and García makes amazingly little distinction between his three minor but important roles. Playing and conducting are good: Izquierdo brings great sensitivity to the score, though the vibrant punch that the composer himself brought to his work is absent. There is no spoken dialogue, but this is a self-recommending issue which no self-respecting Sorozabalian will want to be without.