Madrileña bonita - Montiel in recital

María José Montiel

Rosenblatt Recital Series

St. John’s Smith Square

21 February 2006

reviewed by Christopher Webber

María José Montiel mezzo-soprano, Luisa Domingo harp, Simon Crawford-Phillips piano*. De Falla Siete canciones populares españolas; Salzedo Canción de la noche (harp solo); Massenet Élégie; "Ouvre tes yeux bleus"; Bizet Carmen "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle"*; Mozart Le nozze di Figaro "Voi che sapete"*; Tchaikovsky Lied der Mignon: "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt"*; Grieg "Ich Liebe Dich"*; Halffter "Ai que linda moça" (Fado); Ovalle Azulao; Montsalvatge 3 songs from Canciones negras.

Velvet in tone, immaculate in tuning, perfectly modulated in dynamics, smooth and even throughout the range, this is a Rolls Royce of a voice. It purrs, it powers – and you never once sense the gear changes. The happy band of London pilgrims braving a bleak February night were rewarded with a test drive from María José Montiel in her pride. Astoundingly, despite the singer’s international reputation, this seems to have been her first London recital. It is as certain as taxes not to be her last, but Ian Rosenblatt should take great pride in once again introducing a major talent to English concertgoers. ¡Gran alegría!

Technique is one thing, but of course Montiel is an artist who brings rare focus to her work. A natural communicator, her pleasure is to form and caress musical phrases with a most personal, sensual delight. Any feeling that Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Grieg might emerge from the process homogenised was allayed by Montiel’s sense of drama – the dam-burst of passion in the popular Jeg Elsker Dig (here in its German version) all the more torrential for the conversational lightness with which she delivered Grieg and Hans Christian Andersen’s opening phrases.

Montiel’s style fits the considered poetry of Massenet like a perfumed glove; and though she encompasses the varied emotions of de Falla’s Siete canciones with ease, she is perhaps at her most distinctive in those brooding, self-conscious night-soaked meditations familiar from the Spanish, Portuguese and New World repertoire—many of them can be heard on her Modinha, a marvellous Ensayo CD (ENY-CD-9807) which is never far from my player. Musical rather than verbal sense is paramount; and if, like Berganza, Montiel can sometimes seem almost more virtuoso instrumentalist than singer, that’s a small price to pay where single moods are conveyed so intensely as in Azulao or Halffter’s dark-jewelled Fado.

Simon Crawford-Phillips proved a faultless pianistic partner in the larger-scale items. If the harpist seemed more tentative during the de Falla set, I suspect some slightly awkward-sounding arrangements may have been the cause. Left alone in Salzedo’s brief but ingeniously tailored solo, Luisa Domingo emerged as an instrumental virtuoso in her own right. With Valverde’s Clavelitos and an Obradors song, she and her partner certainly sent us out into the raw London night with glowing hearts and a spring in the step.

© Christopher Webber 2006

Madrileña Bonita - Montiel DVD

zarzuela homepage