La canción del olvido (Serrano)

Isabel Castelo, Renato Cesari, José María Higuero. Coro Cantores y Orquesta Conciertos de Madrid, c. Pablo Sorozábal
EMI 5 74157 2

Pura María Martínez, Antonio Blancas, Julián Molina. Coro Cantores y Orquesta Filarmonía de España, c. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
BMG Alhambra WD 71436

Pilar Lorengar, Manuel Ausensi, Carlos Munguía. Coro Cantores, Gran Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Ataulfo Argenta
Novoson Z-488

Luis Sagi Vela, Lily Berchman (Dolores Pérez), E. Barta. Cantores Líricos, Orquesta de Camara de Madrid, c. Daniel Montorio, Enrique Navarro, Ricardo Estevarena
Montilla FM-20 [LP, nla]

Marcos Redondo, Angeles Ottein, A. de Castro. Gran Orquesta del Teatro del Liceo de Barcelona, c. Antonio Capdevila
Blue Moon BMCD 7514 [highlights]

Choice from the four available versions of Serrano's popular Neapolitan romance is complicated by textual differences. The only really complete version is the EMI, and fortunately it's a competitive one. Castelo is so fresh and delicately characterised that one wonders why she didn't record more, Cesari conveys witty self-satisfaction as the confident Leonello, and the playful barcarolle Intermedio missing from other versions is precisely drilled by the conductor - even though the wind soloists sound barely able to put what is being asked of them into practice.

Shorn of the Intermedio, BMG Alhambra offer even shorter measure at about 40 minutes. The 1970 recording is good, and neither Martinez nor Blancas fall short. Frühbeck's direction is as tight as Sorozábal's for EMI, but the whole feels comparatively unsmiling.

There's no shortage of romantic Mediterranean monshine in Argenta's famous mono version. Again, the Intermedio is absent, though we do get a shortened vocal version featuring the sweet, distinctive vibrato of the young Lorengar. She is well-matched with Ausensi's bluff Leonello, who also provides a brief filler of three songs from other, completely unrelated zarzuelas. A pity Argenta's unissued version of Serrano's La reina mora wasn't included instead!

It's a pity that the Zafiro-Montilla LP remains trapped in limbo, as vocally it is the best all-round modern(ish) version. It is also complete, with the most secure intermedio on disc. Sagi Vela's unique tenor-baritone makes for an ununsually sympathetic Leonello. His relato is light but vulnerable, not so swaggering as Ausensi; and the gracious musicality of his dúo with the dramatic Pérez is spellbinding. She deploys her operatic-scale voice to touching effect in her solos; and given elegant tenor songs from Barta, flexible, affectionate conducting from Estevarena (?), as well as fair recording, this version is infinitely worth seeking out from internet shops.

The 1931 sessions under Capdevila have returned on Blue Moon. The tenor's Napolitana is missing as well as the purely orchestral items, but otherwise everything significant is here, magically sung by Redondo and Ottein. With generous couplings of comparable interest, this would make a pleasing adjunct to any of the three more modern recordings.