Bohemios (Vives)

Ana Higueras, Pedro Lavirgen, Segunda Garcia, Pedro Farres. Coro Cantores, Rondalla y Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, c. Pablo Sorozábal
EMI 5 74209 2 (2-CD)

María Bayo, Luis Lima, Santiago S. Jericó, Carlos Alvarez. Coro Polifonico de la Universidad de la Laguna, Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, c. Antoni Ros Marbà
Naïve V 4894

Francisco Ortiz, Pura María Martinez, Eduardo Fuentes. Coro Cantores, Orquesta Filarmonía de España, c. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
BMG Alhambra WD 71434

Toñy Rosado, Manuel Ausensi, Carlos Munguía, Teresa Berganza. Coros Cantores de Madrid, Gran Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Ataúlfo Argenta
Novoson Z-478

Alfredo Kraus, Ángeles Chamorro, Luisa de Córdoba, Enrique del Portal, Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta Manual de Falla, c. Enrique García Asensio
[Tiempo] Grupo Zeta CD 9

Marcos Redondo, Victoria Racionero, Augusto Gonzalo, Alexina Zanardi, Orquesta Sinfónica y coros del Teatre del Liceu, c. Antonio Capdevila
Aria 1015 / or / Blue Moon BMCD 7507

Elisa de Franco, Amparo Romo, Tino Folgar, Rafael Díaz, Alberto López, Pedro Vidal, Enrique Sagi-Barba, c. Concordio Gelabert
Blue Moon BMCD 7551

In contrast to the red-blooded verve of the 1966 EMI, the Naïve performance seems anaemic. Pedro Lavirgen is at his best in the old set, singing with an abandoned gusto which is not unwelcome, whilst Lima is thin-toned, not entirely free from tenorial bleating. Higueras relies on simplicity and charm, where Bayo (slightly below her best) offers a somewhat cloying self-consciouness. The EMI, true enough, is only the filler on the fine old two disc set of Doña Francisquita - but then, at full price for a mere 43 minutes, the new set costs more and doesn't represent great value for money.

Frühbeck's virtuoso conducting is a compelling reason to consider the BMG Alhambra recording, though it offers equally short measure. The undervalued Ortiz makes a sympathetic Roberto, and Martinez has a touching purity to rival even EMI's Higueras.

Argenta's fluid conducting has a lyric power which carries the listener along Vives's rich melodic stream most effectively. If only the soloists sounded less mature this would be a classic romantic reading. Ausensi at least tries to rein in his lusty baritone to poetic effect, but his remains a loud and unremittingly strenuous reading. Rosado sounds for once miscast as the pert young heroine, matronly and lacking in vocal agility, though warm-toned as ever. The intermedio has splendid thrust, but with close-up mono recording and some phasing in the final number, even this (by BMG-Novoson standards) better-than-average transfer is not quite competitive.

The close-miked, poorly balanced recording is the main drawback to the Carillon CD reissue. Constricted dynamic range (on the Tiempo CD issue) adds to the aural discomfort. What one can hear of the orchestral playing is not quite so good as we'd expect under Garcia Asensio, and much detail of Vives delectable scoring is lost, despite his undoubted theatrical thrust. Chamorro's intense Cosette is heavyweight and unsmiling - she was a mighty singer, but this was hardly her ideal role. As for Kraus himself, as often in his own Carillon series he seems more concerned with demonstrating the rude health of his astounding voice, than with subtle interpretation of the poetic Roberto. Except for Kraus aficionados this uncoupled and slightly cut issue is not as compelling as others in a well-stocked market.

Conversely, the complete historic Barcelona sessions of 1931 under Capdevila sound amazingly clear and vital, especially in the much superior Aria transfer. A baritone Roberto might sound a horrible prospect, but Redondo sounds less strained than most tenors and his partnership with Racionero remains a touching classic of the recorded repertoire. Aria's coupling of extracts from Los Gavilanes is infinitely preferable to Blue Moon's scrappy highlights from eminently forgettable revistas.

Blue Moon also offers a complete set on BM7551 recorded in the same city at about the same time, featuring the distinctive, warm lyricism of Folgar. He is not on his best form, and with an acid Cossette, poor orchestral playing and murky recording this issue is more valuable for its rare coupling, extracts from Vives' late zarzuela, Los flamencos.