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The Maiden & the Nightingale – Songs of Spain
Enrique GRANADOS (1867–1916)
1. Goyescas (1916): La maja y el ruiseñor [6:11];
Xavier MONTSALVATGE (1912–2002)
Cinco canciones negras (1946): (2. I. Cuba dentro de un piano [4:06]; 3. II. Punto de habanera [1:55]; 4. III. Chévere [1:55]; 5. IV. Canción de cuna para dormer a un negrito [2:20]; 6. V. Canto negro [1:18])
Enrique GRANADOS
Colección de canciones amatorias (Góngora y Argote)(orch. Ferrer): (7. Llorad corazón [2:29]; 8. Iban al pinar [1:51])
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901–1999)
Cuatro madrigales amatorios (Traditional): (9. I. E con qué la lavaré? [2:26]; 10. II. Vos me matasteis [2:32]; 11. III. De dónde venís, amore? [1:02]; 12. IV. De los álamos vengo, madre [1:55])
Tríptic de Mossén Cinto: (13. I. L’harpa ssagrada [4:10]; 14. II. Lo violí de Sant Francesc [3:02]; 15. III. Sant Francesc I la cigala [3:50])
Federico MOMPOU (1893–1987)
El combat del somni (orch. Ros-Marba): (16. I. Damunt de tu, només les flors [4:41]; 17. II. Aquesta nit un mateix vent [2:53]; 18. III. Jo et pressentia com la mar [2:03])
Oscar ESPLÁ (1886–1976)
Cinco canciones playeras españolas: (19. I. Rutas [1:25]; 20. II. Pregón [3:01]; 21. III. Las 12 [1:30]; 22. IV. El pescador sin dinero [3:20]; 23. V. Copilla [1:32])
Eduardo TOLDRÁ (1895–1962)
24. Cançó de grumet [2:02];
25. Cançó incerta [2:43];
26. Maig [4:01];
27. Anacreóntica [2:17];
Xavier MONTSALVATGE
28. Madrical sobre un tema popular (El cant dels ocells) (1992) [4:58]
Victoria de los Angeles (soprano), New Philharmonia Orchestra (1), Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (2–12, 19–23)/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos; Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux (13–18), Patronato Orquesta Ciudad de Barcelona (24–27)/Antoni Ros-Marbá; Orquestra Ciutat de Barcelona/Garcia Navarro (28);
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 18 April 1969 (1); Salle Wagram, Paris, 5–8, 10, 27, 28 February 1962 (2–12 and 19–23); 10–14 March 1969 (13–18), Palacio de la Música, Barcelona, 13, 14, 16, 17 January 1969 (24–27); Barcelona (soundtrack from the Closing Ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games)(28)
EMI CLASSICS GREAT RECORDINGS OF THE CENTURY 7243 5 62904 2 6 [78:13]

 

Classical Spanish vocal music is to most music-lovers in the rest of the world indelibly associated with three great singers: Victoria de los Angeles, Montserrat Caballé and Teresa Berganza. Placing them in order of precedence is of course a delicate task but probably Ms de los Angeles as the earliest of them was the pioneer. But we shouldn’t forget singers from even earlier, Conchita Supervia, for instance. Some Spanish songs, or collections of songs, have been established as standard repertoire – de Falla’s Siete Canciones populares españolas, for example, and the Tonadillas of Granados. Neither of these is included on this disc which is a coupling of two LPs recorded in 1962 and 1969 with two extra songs thrown in for good measure.

Since my earliest days as a record collector, Victoria de los Angeles has been a great favourite of mine, the legendary Bohème with Björling and Faust with Gedda and Christoff occupying special places of honour on my shelves. But as so often, singing in one’s mother tongue liberates the voice and the expression in a special way, and hearing her in this repertoire is something extra. What made her such a great artist was not the voice in itself in the first place. True, she was one of the loveliest sopranos of her, or indeed any, generation but this was more through the way she made the words become meaningful, her way of inflecting the phrases, her endearing timbre, her bird-like pianissimo top notes and her lack of artificiality. At forte her tone could become hard and even shrill and she had to work hard with the top register. She could even be a bit unsteady on sustained notes. All this, however, contributed to “The Victoria de los Angeles Sound” and the defects, if that’s what they were, also became a means to express vulnerability, something that comes much less easily to singers with steadier voices. Thanks to discriminating choice of repertoire that suited her voice and temperament she was also vouchsafed an uncommonly long career, during which her voice was more or less unchanged. Listening to her earliest recording, two arias from de Falla’s La vida breve, set down at Abbey Road in March 1948 (HMV DB 6702), there is a youthful freshness that inevitably diminished through the years but it is still remarkable how little. I heard her in a quite taxing French programme at the Wigmore Hall in 1990 and her voice was in perfect shape. She even sang as an encore the Seguidilla from Carmen with the same abandon as on the complete recording with Beecham, made more than thirty years earlier. And on the final track on the present disc she can be heard even later in her career, singing Montsalvatge’s Madrigal in a recording from the Closing Ceremony of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. I doubt that many listeners when hearing this and then listening to any of the items recorded in 1962 would believe that they were recorded thirty years apart.

The other bonus track on the disc is the opening number, the aria La maja y el ruiseñor (The girl and the nightingale) from Granados’ opera Goyescas. This was another piece she recorded very early, 1950, also in London. The differences are small and what she may have lost in freshness of tone she has gained in insight. Both recordings are worthy representatives of an opera that is little played today and from which only the orchestral Intermezzo can be heard once in a while. It is wonderfully atmospheric music, richer on lyrical qualities than drama.

It is followed by Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras from 1946, possibly the most well-known songs on this disc. Originally they were written with piano accompaniments and the young de los Angeles sang them in this version and later also in the orchestral version from 1949, which is recorded here. The cycle as such is marvellous music in either version. It actually also exists in a version for soprano and eight cellos by Elias Arizcuren and Nicolaas Ravenstijn, authorised by the composer in 1990 and premiered at the festival of Peralada in Spain in the presence of the composer and Rostropovich. There is a recording with soprano Young Hee Kim Peral and Conjunto Ibérico on Channel Classics CCS 13298. Teresa Berganza recorded the original version on DG and it was through her I also first came to know this music at a concert in the early 1970s – but that was the orchestral version and it is the one I prefer. Comparing the two great Spanish singers, de los Angeles is the frailer, more intimate, the “Lullaby for a black baby” (tr. 5) so delicately sung, not to an audience but to the little one, with “head like a coconut, a coffee-bean / with pretty dark curls / and great big eyes …” But what horrible things she whispers: “Close your eyes, my frightened little one /or the big white devil may come and eat you up”? In the concluding rhythmic Canto negro, on the other hand, she is wonderfully outgoing and relaxed, almost casual in her rhythmic lilt, maybe illustrating the lines “The negro sings / and gets drunk”.

Granados’s Canciones amatorias is a group of seven songs, which Montserrat Caballé recorded complete in the mid-sixties, coupled with the better-known Tonadillas. I still treasure the original LP but have upgraded to the CD which also includes some extra songs, including the aria from Goyescas with piano accompaniment. Caballé’s creamy voice is of course a marvellous instrument and the whole disc can be wholeheartedly recommended. De los Angeles is in the last resort the most endearing in the two songs she recorded from the cycle.

I have a soft spot for Rodrigo’s music and the songs performed here are lovely creations, not least De dónde venis, amore? (tr. 11), where both the orchestra and the soprano chirp like amorous birds. De los Alamos vengo, madre (tr. 12) is even lovelier. These madrigals are all quite happy and sparkling, while the Triptych of Monsignor Cinto starts solemnly and melancholy with “The sacred Harp”, where the aforementioned strain at the top of the voice is noticeable. “St. Francis’s violin” is lively, even burlesque, but there is a sad undertone. The third song in the cycle has a heart-warming beauty all of its own, reminding me sometimes of a Russian folksong.

There has been some attention to Federico Mompou’s piano music lately; Naxos has released four volumes with the excellent Jordi Masó. Much of it is based on or at least inspired by the folk music of his native Catalonia. That also goes for his songs, which are graciously melodic.

The music of Oscar Esplá and Eduardo Toldrá is little known, but Esplá especially has a distinct voice with quite daring harmonies and rhythms and a characteristic Spanish melodic touch. One would believe that Las 12 (Twelve o’clock) (tr. 21) should be sleepy siesta music; it is anything but.

Toldrá’s songs are more straightforwardly melodic and Maig (May)(tr. 26) is a beautiful evocation of spring with de los Angeles caressing every syllable.

It is remarkable how many of these Spanish composers reached advanced ages: Montsalvatge and Oscar Esplá reached 90, Mompou 94 and Rodrigo 98 and they were obviously active to the very end.

As always with this wholly admirable series of reissues from the important EMI back catalogue the documentation is first class. There are full texts and translations in four languages and an appreciation by John Steane.

Riches aplenty on this well-filled disc which shouldn’t be missing from any respectable collection of vocal music.

Göran Forsling


 



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