Luisa Fernanda (Torroba)

Nancy Herrera, Mariola Cantarero, José Bros, Plácido Domingo. Coro y Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, c. Jesús López Cobos
Deutsche Grammophon 0028947658252

Veroníca Villarroel, Ana Rodrigo, Plácido Domingo, Juan Pons. Coro de la Universidad Polité CMCA de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, c. Antoni Ros Marbà
Auvidis Valois V4759 (nla)

Teresa Berganza, Maria Rosa del Campo, Julian Molina, Antonio Blancas. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta Filarmonia de España, c. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Novoson Z-534

Dolores Pérez, Natalia Lombay, Miguel Sierra, Luis Sagi-Vela. Coros de RNE, Orquesta de Cámara de Madrid, c. Ricardo Estevarena
Zafiro 50603041

Teresa Tourne, Estrella Alsina, Pedro Lavirgen, Renato Cesari. Coros Líricos de Hispavox, Orquesta de Conciertos de Madrid, c. Federico Moreno Torroba
EMI 5 74153 2

Fuensanta Solá, María de los Ángeles Morales, Carlos Munguía, Manuel Ausensi. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Gran Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Ataulfo Argenta
Novoson Z-534

Angeles Ottein, Sélica Pérez Carpio, Emilio Vendrell, Faustino Arregui, Miguel Fleta, Marcos Redondo, Manuel Hernández. Orquestas y coros, c. Emilio Acevedo, Concordia Gelabert, Federico Moreno Torroba
Blue Moon BMCD 7522 [highlights]

Laura Nieto, Tino Folgar, Emilio Sagi-Barba. c. ?
Blue Moon BMCD 7504 [highlights]

Dolores Pérez, Josefina Cubeiro, Carlo del Monte, Luis Sagi-Vela. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta Lírica Española, c. Federico Moreno Torroba
HMV 066 - 20.732 LP (nla)

Deutsche Grammophon's CD is compiled from a memorable series of live performances at Madrid's Teatro Real during the summer of 2006. López Cobos makes sure that all the colour of Torroba's revised score registers, and the male protagonists - Bros, perhaps the finest modern Javier, and the evergreen Domingo whose bari-tenor Vidal is as subtly characterised as it is beautifully sung - are superlative. Cantarero's equally distinguished Duchess manages to be both witty and imperious, but though Herrera's smoky mezzo is attractive her Luisa fails to match these three for artistry. The smaller roles are vividly portrayed, the choral and orchestral work is thrilling, the historical sweep of the action is strongly conveyed. It's a pity that the minor cuts in the theatrical presentation could not opened up for the CD issue; but a much more serious difficulty is the use of the composer's sentimentally gilded 1950's revision, recorded by him for EMI and unaccountably preferred by Torroba's son for the new performing edition. Caveats aside, DG's version is a very strong recommendation.

The currently deleted but not quite unobtainable Auvidis version from the late 1990's is absolutely complete - vital in a work so well balanced between romance and politics. Domingo belies his years with a forthright, richly sung Javier, Villarroel's distinctive timbre makes her a touching Luisa. Pons threatens to be a mite dull as Vidal, but rises well to the dignified pathos of the last act. Stretching to two discs, beautifully prepared and executed, this set new standards and remains a must for any collector who can get hold of it.

The composer's own account on EMI should be approached with caution. The cast is uniformly strong, but Torroba unfortunately subjected his original score to some needless harmonic and instrumental tweaks - the famous Mazurka and Los vareadores emerge notably the worse for these 'improvements'. It's doubly sad that the composer's unvarnished account on HMV LP, with del Monte a notably strong Javier, remains unavailable on CD.

Of the remainder, Frühbeck's on BMG-Alhambra is easily the best. With strong dramatic impetus and superior orchestral playing, Berganza at her finest, del Campo a scintillating Carolina and Blancas suavely impressive as Vidal there's little need to revisit Argenta's frankly outdated mono Novoson version. Set against Frühbeck's Molina, Munguia sounds an overparted Javier, whilst Solá's lightweight mezzo is not always secure in the title role; and though Morales and Ausensi are in impressive form the case for this impeccably conducted 1956 recording is no longer compelling.

The Zafiro reissue is mainly valuable for Sagi-Vela's touching portrayal of Vidal, a role created by his father Emilio Sagi-Barba. He may not be quite the plain-singing country hick, but his portrait of a sensitive man out of his social element is perfectly painted. With Pérez a subtly characterised Luisa, the workmanlike Carolina and Javier can be the more readily accepted. Estevarena's conducting is unsubtle, but drives the music along efficiently enough.

Lovers of Torroba's score will want to seek out both Blue Moon issues. Sagi-Barba himself commited substantial extracts to 78s in 1933 for HMV, with Folgar and Laura Nieto. These are on BMCD 7504, where Folgar's Habanera del Saboyano is a special joy, though sadly he did not record Javier's romanza. Nor, apparently, did Vendrell, one of the superstars on the rival Odeon selection from 1932. He also ducks the Mazurka, as does the broodingly effective Ottein. BMCD 7522 has the Odeon set, and another HMV set from the same year with Pérez Carpio (like Ottein) taking both female roles. Redondo's incomparable Vidal is the common link between the two. Blue Moon temptingly include some nice rarities from a 1934 revival, notably the extra romanza Torroba inserted in Act 2 for his Javier, the world-famous Fleta.