> Manuel de Falla: The Essential [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
El Amor Brujo (1915, 1925) [25.05]
Noches en los Jardines de España (1916) [24.54]
Homenaje 'Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy' (1920) [3.25]
Psyché (1925) [5.44]
Harpsichord Concerto (1926) [12.58]
La Vida Breve - Interludio y Danza (1905) [7.07]
Siete Canciones Populares Españolas (1914-15) [14.13]
Quatro piezas españolas (1908) [15.48]
El sombrero de tres picos (1919) [37.48]
Nati Mistral (mezzo)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (El Amor)
John Constable (harpsichord)
London Sinfonietta/David Atherton
Eduardo Fernández (guitar) (Homenaje)
Jennifer Smith (sop)
London Sinfonietta/Simon Rattle (Psyché)
Alicia de Larrocha (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (Noches)
L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Anserment (Vida)
Marilyn Horne (sop)/Martin Katz (piano) (Canciones)
Alicia de Larrocha (piano) (Piezas)
Colette Boky (sop)
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal/Charles Dutoit (Sombrero)
rec 1967 (El Amor Brujo); 1980 (Harpsichord; Psyché); 1984 (Noches); 1962 (Vida); 1973 (Canciones); 1974 (Piezas); 1983 (Sombrero) ADD for all except Homenaje, Noches and Sombrero which are DDD.
DECCA Double Decca 466 128-2 [2CDs: 72.18+75.17]

All the most famous de Falla works are here in this two-for-the-price-of-one collection of reissues. Two items are from the 1960s; the rest from the following two decades. Two major works are in full DDD sound with the rest being in healthy analogue.

The work-mix is promising with strong representation from the great ballets, from his romantic-impressionistic masterpiece for piano and orchestra, from the solo piano music, from the canciones and from his neo-classical phase.

Frühbeck de Burgos (who I always associate with one of the greatest Carmina Buranas - on EMI Classics) has resilient Spanish roots and it is fitting that he directs two of the vintage major scores. It is notable however that Decca took him to London to make the sessions rather than working with him in Madrid, Barcelona or Bilbao. The Dutoit Montréal Tricorne was part of a longstanding cycle of recordings made in Canada. At one time in the 1980s it would have been astonishing if a month had gone by without the issue of a Decca-Montreal-Dutoit CD; almost as surprising as if a month had gone by without Chandos issuing a Järvi-SNO disc.

This is a very decent El Amor Brujo if under-powered and lacking strong Hispanic inflection (the Pantomime, a quintessential moment, chugs somewhat when it should flow with the viscosity of warm syrup). It is more cosmopolitan in character than Iberian. Nati Mistral is suitably earthy and an improvement on Ines Rivandeneyra (Markevich, Madrid, 1966) on the single disc Australian Eloquence Falla collection. I still hanker for the rawness (and probably equally non-Hispanic) and ragged passionate edge of Irina Arkhipova in that long-gone scrawny sounding Classics for Pleasure LP (Leningrad PO with Arvid Jansons). Mistral is closely recorded and very aptly too in the final 'Bells of Dawn'.

The Harpsichord Concerto (which I learnt from a tape of a broadcast featuring one of de Falla's biographers, Lionel Salter) glints and sparkles, liquorice and peppermint sharp. Constable and Rattle startle this listener with the parallels with Copland. Here is a work close in spirit to Respighi and to the Martinů of the Paris years. The London Sinfonietta are also the orchestra for that rarity Psyché. This may be written for a sparely specified orchestra but it is from much more succulent fruit. I am not at all sure about Jennifer Smith's accenting of the French text by Georges Jean-Aubry but her strong voice soars and strides over the top of the orchestra. This work might pair well with similarly specified works by Patrick Hadley such as Ephemera and Scene from 'The Woodlanders'.

Fernandez's lovingly shaded and sketched Homenaje is the most recent recording. It is a considered plangent brevity written two years after Debussy's death.

The first disc ends with a refined and tense Noches en los Jardines de España. Larrocha and Frühbeck de Burgos know this music inside out and it goes well. It is winsome rather than embracing the wilder extremes of fire and poetry. Conductor and soloist must know every twist and turn of this music. This delicate travelogue for piano and orchestra has few sisters but one is Joseph Marx's Castelli Romana. The final panel of the triptych is reminiscent of Liszt's Totentanz at times.

The second disc starts with a no nonsense account of the grim La Vida Breve with its oboe chanted premonition of the music for Le Tricorne and its delirious slide into Chabrier-Bizet Hispanicism complete with castanets. Irresistible.

In the Spanish songs Marilyn Horne initially dashes hopes with the first song which she rather flattens with her auditorium voice - better suited to the wide-stage than to these more intimate morsels. Was this to be a washout? In fact things warm up nicely with Seguidilla murciana and Cancion which Horne manages very well indeed. Both Asturiana and Nana have Horne on outstanding steady-toned form singing a long-breathed slow line with rapt control. Polo takes us back to the gitana flourishes of El Amor Brujo and here the sheer power of Horne's voice tells supremely well. I was all set to dislike this but in fact recommend it as a gorgeous interpretation.

Alicia de Larrocha's version of the Four Pieces takes us through the pert cheekiness of Aragonesa, to the warm and sly charm of Cubana, to the somnolent dusty heat of Montanesa and finally to the steel heels and castanet-haunted world of Andaluza.

Not so very long ago I reviewed the Ansermet version of Le Tricorne. Its aural brilliance is not in doubt and it has some character but in the face of Dutoit's Montreal version it has to take several steps back. The Montreal sessions must have been extraordinary. The soloistic work especially in the woodwind brims with personality and with unanimity. Attack is split-second and vicious. Galvanic bite and restlessness leap out from every corner. Then again there is the flighty avian flurry of the Las uvas. The French twang of the brass is apparent in the Miller's Dance. The Corregidor's Dance is surely the most neo-classical of the sequences in a ballet otherwise strong on fulsome passion and energy. Dutoit's final dance is all braggadocio, swagger and dazzling sunlight. Just as it should be. Again undeniably irresistible. This catches a virtuoso orchestra in full flight.

The anonymous liner notes quickly and economically cover the composer basics omitting artist profiles. Discographical detail is mostly in place if not specific on exact dates and with no information on session locations. All words are printed as sung and in English translation. The discs are in a single width hinge-out housing.

Rob Barnett

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