La tabernera del puerto (Sorozábal)

Leda Barclay, Alfredo Kraus, Renato Cesari, Jorge Algorta. Coro Cantores y Orquesta Conciertos de Madrid, c. Pablo Sorozábal
EMI 5 74158 2 (2-CD) / or / Novoson Z-572/1-2 (2-CD)

María Bayo, Plácido Domingo, Juan Pons, Enrique Baquerizo. Orféon Donostiarra, Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, c. Víctor Pablo Pérez
Auvidis Valois V4766

Isabel Penagos, Julián Molina, Pedro Farrés, Julio Catania. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Pablo Sorozábal
Zafiro 1030-2, 1031-2 (2 CDs, oas)

Ana Higueras, Juan Manuel Ariza, Manuel Ausensi, Víctor de Narke. Coro Cantores de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Pablo Sorozábal
BMG Alhambra 71469 (2)

María Espinalt, Pepita Embil, Enriqueta Serrano, Vicente Simón, Antonio Medio, Marcos Redondo, Manuel Gas, [Marcelino del Llano]. c. Pablo Sorozábal, Pascual Godés
Blue Moon BMCD 7518

The composer's own 1958 EMI recording has classic status. Though the Auvidis is incomparably better recorded, vocally the comparison with the old set is swings and roundabouts. Bayo's Marola, witty and alluring by turns leaves little to be desired, though Barclay's simpler reading is often touching. Both tenors are thrilling, Domingo again amazingly youthful-sounding, the young Kraus lighter and more flexible. Cesari's Eguía is much more vivid than Juan Pons on the Auvidis, though his tasteful "gentleman-pirate" may not be brutal enough for some. Despite its transcendent popularity, La tabernera del puerto is in some ways less distinctive than Sorozábal's very best works, and the new set, excellently sung and played though it is, tends to highlight the score's debts - not least to Debussy's La Mer and Guridi's Basque Scenes.

Under the composer's direction such doubts never surface, and his superior rhythmic vitality makes up for any coarseness in the playing. A complication is that though it now fits snugly onto one disc, the EMI still comes as part of a 2-CD package. Still, as the other half of the double-bill is an equally memorable account of La del manojo de rosas with Pilar Lorengar - essential for committed Sorozábalians - there's nothing lost and much gained.

The composer's 1968 BMG remake isn't in this league. For one thing, it includes extra dialogue glumly delivered, and slips onto two mid-price discs; and although Ariza gives it his best shot, his Leandro simply isn't in the same class as Domingo or Kraus. There is a good sense of theatre, Higueras's very young-sounding Marola is very appealing, whilst Ausensi portrays the thuggish aspect of Eguía to the manner born; but overall the set represents no real alternative to its predecessor.

The latest of the three complete versions under the composer is notable for its Marola. Penagos reins in her ample forces with fair success in "En un país de fábula", and in the dúos and ensembles her operatic warmth and artistry are superb. Farrés is an Eguía powerfully strong of voice, who grows in character as his story unfolds. One problem is that his rich baritone and quick vibrato are not sufficently contasted with Catania's sepulchral Simpson, but there's no gainsaying his vocal distinction. Molina is a penny-plain but effective Leandro; and the composer's more measured and romantic direction is effective as ever, in tolerable stereo.

The compilation of historic extracts taken from a variety of sources on Blue Moon is generously coupled with a similar selection from Don Manolito, but the stellar singers themselves are somewhat disappointing. Gas as the English sailor Simpson is tremendously powerful in his (truncated) tango "Despierta negro", but neither Espinalt nor Simón provide pleasant listening as the young lovers. One oddity is that the barely workmanlike "No puede ser" is not Simón's as claimed, but an alternative performance made after the civil war by an obscure Asturian tenor, Marcelino de Llano. The comic numbers featuring the composer's wife Serrano, and Plácido Domingo's mother Embil as Marola, provide the most satisfying moments in an uneven selection.