Mention El Maestro Alonso in Madrid today and most people will think you’re talking F1, but there are still a happy band of pilgrims for whom no walk along Calle Alcalá is complete without a greeting to the bust of the true and original “Maestro Alonso”, famous composer of La Calesera and Las Leandras, and next to Federico Chueca the capital’s most beloved musician. Yet Alonso was a born and bred Granadine, which makes this tribute from the Andalusian musical establishment a fitting one.
Fitting in other ways too. In its time Francisco Alonso’s music was hugely popular and regularly served up fresh on record; yet with the exception of the evergreen Las Leandras his zarzuelas are now rarely seen in the theatre, and there hasn’t been a new, complete recording of any of them for nearly 20 years. Unlike Sorozábal, still a vivid contemporary presence, Alonso’s work has mistakenly become associated with the “old” Spain, a world of brutal Francoist nostalgia as portrayed in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s modish novel The Shadow of the Wind, and swashbuckling historical canvasses such as La calesera or La picarona seem as distant and creaky as an Errol Flynn film.
If this collection proves one thing, it’s that the music itself is anything but creaky. Most of what’s here will be unfamiliar even to many fans, but all of it hits the mark. A good tune is a good tune, and Alonso’s are very good indeed. His knack was to write directly without condescension, and with scarcely a wasted note. The orchestrations add zest, the harmonies Puccinian lushness, but it’s the intense appeal of the melodies which makes the music live. If anything seems passé it’s those occasional Andalusian flamenco roulades and curlicues, which maybe the excellent Juan de Udaeta and his Málaga orchestra felt they had to represent. Personally I loved it all.
In a balanced mix from the historical zarzuelas grandes, contemporary sainetes and 1930s revue songs, the Pasodoble and Cancion de la reja (replete with gypsy-style ayeos) extracted from the soundtrack of Eusebio Fernández Ardavín’s 1943 film Forja de almas are of special rarity. More substantial are the four numbers from Curro el de Lora, a two act zarzuela produced immediately before the blockbuster success of La calesera in 1925, and forgotten since. Alonso always considered it one of finest scores, and on this evidence it’s certainly one of his most operatic. The extended dúo in particular whets the appetite for the complete recording due to be made next month in Madrid ( c.f. zarzuela.net interview with José Julián Frontal ) with the same conductor and orchestra.
The two singers here have the personality to put the material over convincingly enough – Teresa Novoa especially so in the intensely catchy cuplé from the revue ¡24 horas mintiendo!, despite some vocal clouds in her middle register – and altogether these well-prepared performances are a welcome ornament to the Alonso catalogue. Outstanding illustrated notes by Emilio Casares Rodicio, but no texts in Almaviva's tastefully bland presentation.
© Christopher Webber 2007
17 August 2007