Katiuska (Sorozábal)

Isabel Penagros, Manuel Ausensi, Alicia de la Victoria, Luis Frutos, Julio Julián. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Pablo Sorozábal
BMG Zafiro 74321 33461 2

Pilar Lorengar, Enriqueta Serrano, Alfredo Kraus, Renato Cesari, Manuel Gas. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, c. Pablo Sorozábal
EMI 7243 5 74161 2 2 / or / Novoson Z-574

Ana Higueras, Concita Laya, Julián Molina, Antonio Blancas, Luis Frutos. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Pablo Sorozábal
BMG Alhambra WD 71585 2

Felisa Herrero, Ángeles Ottein, Enriqueta Serrano, Amparo Albiach, Laura Nieto, Augusto Gonzalo, Luis Bori, Marcos Redondo. Orquestas y coros, c. Pablo Sorozábal, Concordio Gelabert, Antonio Capdevila, Miguel Puri
Blue Moon BMCD 7516 [extensive highlights]

Ainhoa Garmendia, Izaskun Arruabarrena, Pilar Catalina, Pablo Azpeitia. Agrupación Lírica Itsaso, Orquesta Sinfónica Donostiarra, c. Juanjo Ocón
aus_Art Records aAr 007

[digest from the comparative and historic reviews]

Perhaps the strange affinity between Russian and Spanish musical character - even the bandurias masquerade perfectly as balalaikas - makes Katiuska seem much more deep-rooted than any other 'exotic' operetta-style zarzuela. The work is very well served on CD indeed. Each of the three performances conducted by the composer have plenty in their favour, not least in the casting of the title role. Lorengar's distinctive warmth in the early EMI (1958) is matched by Penagos in the later Zafiro (1970) - a most affecting Katiuska in the same style, but adding delicate, melancholic brush-strokes very much her own, particularly in "Vívia sola".

Higueras in the 2-CD Alhambra set (with complete spoken dialogue) conveys the essential youth and innocence of the heroine perfectly, but is let down by some appalling edits, and poor sound engineering. Despite Higueras and the clean gentility of Blancas's Pedro Stakoff, the Alhambra set can only be recommended to Spanish speakers and completists. The latter also applies to the workmanlike performance on ausArt, a souvenir of performances at the Teatro Victoria Eugenia at San Sebastián which doesn't bear repeated listening.

Both prime contenders boast star singers as Stakoff, with EMI's Cesari's easily outpointing his Zafiro rival in the quieter lyrical music. Yet somehow, Ausensi's beefy masculinity seems exactly right for Red Pedro, and his comparatively coarse delivery of "La mujer Rusa" wins out over the sophistication of his rival. With equally strong singers in the subsidiary roles - Kraus is luxury casting as the Prince for EMI - it is impossible to nominate a clear winner, especially given the much improved sound of EMI's recent re-transfer over its original CD issue. Either set could take pride of place in any half-serious zarzuela collection.

The Blue Moon compendium of early recordings includes a fascinating rarity - Redondo singing a stirring Act 1 number "Canto a la Patria" which was cut even before the first night, sensibly given its similarity to "La mujer Rusa" but worth hearing for its own sake. With full libretto including the original "Balalaika" text of "Noche hermosa" from Ottein, not to mention one of the greatest zarzuela performances ever recorded - the duet "Somos dos barcos" with Redondo and Herrero - this lovingly documented disc is another must-have.