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Lorenzo PALOMO (b. 1938)
Nocturnos de Andalucia: Brindis a la noche (A Toast to the Night); Sonrisa truncada de una estrella (Shattered Smile of a Statr); Danza de Marialuna (Dance of Marialuna); Ráfaga (Gust of Wind); Nocturno de Córdoba (Nocturne of Córdoba); El tablao (The Flamenco Stage); [40:53]
Canciones españolas (Spanish Songs): Una primavera andaluza (An Andalusian Spring); Tientos; Plenilunio (Full Mopon); Del atardecer al alba o Recuerdos de juventud (Memories of Youth) [33:48]
Maria Bayo (soprano)(Canciones españolas),
Pepe Romero (guitar) (Nocturnos de Andalucía)
Seville Royal Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
rec. Sala Apolo, Seville, Spain, 29 August-2 September 2000
NAXOS 8.557135 [74:19]

The Canciones españolas comprise two groups of songs - song cycles may not be the proper word - plus two separate songs. However the majority of the disc is covered by the Nocturnos de Andalucia, a composition for guitar and large symphony orchestra. The Nocturnos was premiered by the same soloist and conductor as late as January 1996 in Berlin. Since there is no indication of a world premiere recording of either of the pieces I suppose that it has been recorded before, since Naxos are usually very keen on laying a claim where there is one to be made. Anyway the Nocturnos seem to be Lorenzo Palomo’s greatest success, having been performed on fifty occasions around the world. This is impressive for a fairly newly written work. Truth to tell it isn’t extremely modernistic, even though there are some daring harmonic turns. It is an approachable composition, tonal and even romantic. Some of the movements are full of rhythmic life, inventively and colourfully scored. Through the whole composition there is an unmistakable flavour of Spain. Structurally it is rather rhapsodic. The weakness, if that’s what it is, is a predominance of slow tempos and restrained dynamics. It is also obvious that the range of colours is limited. Mr Palomo likes brass choirs and that not only applies to the Nocturnos. The songs are pretty brass heavy as well.
 
The solo guitarist mostly plays on his own or with sparse orchestration surrounding him. Every now and then the orchestra grows organically out of a guitar phrase, prolonging it and expanding it dynamically.
 
The titles of the six movements are evocative, as can be seen from the heading, and of differing length. The third movement, almost a symphonic poem in its own right, is almost 14 minutes long, while the fourth is hardly more than a “Gust of wind” at just over two minutes. Mr Palomo also, according to the booklet text, “offers the option of omitting some movements in order to present an abbreviated version, a sort of ‘suite de la suite’”. And it is a long work, which through its nocturnal character can for long stretches feel rather subdued. There are, to be sure, more powerful outbreaks, but the prevailing mood is dark. Though I admire much of the music a composition of this length needs much more dynamic contrast. I am fully aware that it is a collection of nocturnes, but forty minutes of rather recessed music is a little too much. There are some powerful moments but they are few and far between. The final movement, “The Flamenco Stage”, is generally the most outgoing and also the most immediately catchy. Be warned though: it starts almost inaudibly and only gradually gains momentum.
 
I have no complaints concerning the execution of the music. The Seville Royal Symphony Orchestra play well, steeped in the tradition. Veteran conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos wrings the most out of the score. Pepe Romero, as would be expected, is an ideal soloist, the music written with him in mind. I have several of his recordings in my collection and of course music from his native Spain must be close to his heart. The technical demands are considerable and he overcomes them superbly.
 
Some of the songs on this disc were composed for Montserrat Caballé, who also premiered the cycle Del atardecer al alba (or Recuerdos de juventud) at a recital in Carnegie Hall in February 1987. They are beautiful songs and Maria Bayo, although the possessor of a voice quite different from Ms Caballé’s, makes the most of them. As a matter of fact hers is an even more Spanish voice, expressive, vibrant, sometimes excessively so, but of great beauty and closer to the traditional Flamenco singer than Caballé’s more creamy sound. Much of this music she also sings in an exquisitely shaded half-voice, very touchingly indeed. Most of these five songs are slow, probably written to suit Montserrat Caballé in her Indian summer. The other cycle, Una primavera andaluza, comprises six songs, written a few years later and premiered by Karan Armstrong. These are actually more multi-faceted and here Bayo is even more at an advantage, singing really beautifully in Sólo tú (Only You) (track 9), not to be confused with The Platters old hit song. This is probably my favourite track.
 
My reaction to the disc as a whole may seem a bit luke-warm. Although I admired the playing of Pepe Romero and the orchestra, I didn’t take to the Nocturnos as I had hoped. Further acquaintance may make me more positive. Anyway I liked some of the songs very much and I will certainly play several of them again in the future.
 
Good sound and an informative booklet note by José Luis Garcia del Busto but the sung texts are only available on-line.
 
Göran Forsling
 

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