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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
El Amor Brujo (1915, 1925) [25.05]
Noches en los Jardines de España (1916) [22.31]
Harpsichord Concerto (1926) [13.15]
El sombrero de tres picos - Miller's Dance; Jota (1919) [9.10]
La Vida breve - Interlude and Dance 1 (1905) [6.43]
Ines Rivandeneyra (mz), Orquesta Sinfonica de la RTV Española/Igor Markevich - Oct 1966, Spain (Brujo)
Clara Haskil (piano), Orchestra des Concerts Lamoureux/Igor Markevich - rec Oct 1960, France (Noches)
Rafael Puyana (hpschd), David Sandeman (fl), Neil Black (ob), Thea King (cl), Raymond Cohen (vn), Terence Weil (vc), Sir Charles Mackerras (dir) - rec Aug 1969, England (concerto)
Orchestre du Théâtre de L'Opéra de Paris/Roberto Benzi - June 1964, France - (Sombrero)
Minneapolis SO/Antal Dorati - rec 1966-7 - (Vida)
all ADD
PHILIPS ELOQUENCE 468 313-2 [77.02]

AVAIABILITY

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Without being in the top flight of recordings this super bargain price collection merits the attention of anyone curious about de Falla's music. The timing makes full use of the CD medium. The recordings are in gripping analogue and are between thirty and forty years old. You must not expect refined sound but in many ways the music responds well to a rawer edge. It brings out the village overtones of the music. Too much sophistication can be poison.

Markevich, who had residencies with Spanish orchestras, is very good in El Amor Brujo with plenty of rhythmic attack. His mezzo is rather shaky and her breath control when in guttural mode is not of the best. In the Pantomime - Markevich is among the best at shaping one of those open-hearted melodies that is a gift to Western culture. The solo cello trembles when it shouldn't but otherwise this is fine. One of the most appealing recordings I have ever come across was also the rawest. It was a Melodiya recording in which the soloist was Irina Arkhipova. This was issued on a Classics for Pleasure LP in circa 1975. The coupling was Noches in which the pianist was Alexander Iokheles. The sound was gritty and the strings tended to sound strangulated but I have not since come across such spirited attack and feeling.

Recently I have been listening to Alicia de Larrocha in Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto (also on Eloquence) - a 1970s Decca recording. Well, Haskil's Noches has similar unhurried qualities in the solo part and although display is a sizeable proportion of what this glorious work is about there is also poetry plenty and Haskil is amongst the finest in this area. The Lamoureux Orchestra give a characterful reading. As an example try the fruitily squeezed out tone of the piano violins at 5.07 in the Generalife. The exultant orchestral savagery in the first few pages of the Sierra de Córdoba has hardly ever been brought out with such brilliance - not even in the Melodiya I mentioned earlier. Markevich once again proves himself a front-rank conductor.

The Harpsichord Concerto (really a chamber concerto rather like Martinu's Nonet) marked the composer's flirtatious interlude with neo-classicism. It has all the virtues and vices of that movement. The acid-etched lines are presented lucidly and melody is not entirely sacrificed.

Roberto Benzi is a conductor only rarely encountered on record. I have some recollection of his Ravel on a Philips Universo LP and I think there is also a recording or two on Forlane. The two dances from Tricorne are snappy enough and are enhanced by the Parisian trumpets playing with rough-gruff Mexican style. The Minneapolis track sounds undernourished- beginning to show its age. Dorati captures the verismo angst of the piece in the Interlude sounding for all the world at first like the prelude to a lurid little shocker by Giordano or Mascagni.

Eloquence have rewardingly evaded the usual suspects and given us a sharply characterised and varied anthology.

Rob Barnett



A reader (John O'Hagan) adds (July 2010): I also recommend Benzi's recording with the LSO of the Bizet Symphony and suites from La Jolie Fille de Perth and Jeux d'Enfants on a Philips "Best of Bizet" Duo (with other pieces by other performers). This dates from the mid-1960s; it seems to have been first issued on Philips's mid-price GL/SGL LP label, and within a few years had migrated to their even cheaper Fontana Special label, and thence via other LP manifestations. It's not clear if its appearance on the "Best of Bizet" Duo is its first or only CD issue. Recording quality and performance are both excellent. Over the years, Gramophone and the Penguin Guides have approved (although the original review in Gramophone in June 1966 of the mono LP had been very disappointed with the sound). The PG warmed even more to it over the years, and finds the Philips Duo "very nearly worth getting for the Benzi performances alone". It also laments how few records he has made.

Other Benzi performances that have turned up in review journals (but not heard by JOH) include the Schoenberg orchestration for string quartet and orchestra of a Handel Concerto Grosso, with the Arnhem PO (on a 5-CD all-Schoenberg set from Chandos, featuring the eponymous Schoenberg String Quartet); Falla's "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" from 1960, with the ORTF National Orchestra, on an EMI DVD devoted to the pianist Aldo Ciccolini; and the Faure Ballade and Fantasie for piano and orchestra, with Eric Heidsieck, with the Orchestre du Festival du Grand Rue on a French label (Cassiopee). It is not known if these are still available, or even if all of them were ever issued in the UK market. But Naxos is still listing his Franck Symphony (with Le Chasseur maudit and Les Eolides) again with the Arnhem PO (which Fanfare hailed in its enthusiastic review as "one of Western Europe's better kept secrets"). "


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