La villana (Vives)

Montserrat Caballé, Vicente Sardinero, Francisco Ortiz, Antonio Borras. Coro Orfeó Gracienc, Orquesta Sinfónica de Barcelona, c. Enrique Garcia Asensio.
BMG RCA 82876 590492 (2-CD)

Felisa Herrero, Pablo Gorgé, Mateo Guitart, Antonio Palacios, Victoriano Redondo del Castillo, c. Juan Antonio Martínez
Blue Moon BMCD 7553 [Extracts]

Vives' most ambitious work is seriously in need of a new, complete recording. Maybe due to the constraints of a two-disc format the Columbia LP set - now reissued on BMG - made massive cuts to the score, and for the purist the extended highlights that result will seem perilously close to butchery. However, given the excellent musical standards of what's there, gratitude should outweigh the understandable sense of frustration.

As the faithful Casilda, Caballé gives one of her finest performances on record. Her stratospheric pianissimi have never sounded so magical, and singing in Spanish she conveys a detailed dramatic involvement not always evident in her Italian opera sets. Sardinero as her stalwart husband and Ortiz as her would-be seducer are both excellently cast, the latter in particular making good use of his considerable lyric opportunities. Asensio's handling of a score which grows in stature with every hearing is firm and sensitive throughout, and despite its failure to eradicate some of the brass distortions which marred the thrilling Jota castellana in the old LP pressings this smooth CD transfer restores one of the jewels of the recorded repertoire to circulation.

Blue Moon's original cast highlights from 1927 are all that is to be had on CD. Odeón's 16 sides include two numbers - a reaping song and courtly Intermedio excluded from the LP set - and given the fiery passion of Herrero in the title role, the oaken solidity of Gorgé as her husband, good support from bass Redondo del Castillo and comedy tenor Palacios, and lively conducting and playing, this reissue can be recommended for artistic as much as historical reasons. Unfortunately, the transfer does not correct the semitonally flat pitch of the original 78s issue, a mistake which makes these classic singers sound oddly lugubrious - they certainly didn't record it that way!