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Brilliant Classics

José Carreras / Teresa Berganza
English Chamber Orchestra/Enrique García Asensio; Antoni Ros Marbà
rec. London, EMI Abbey Road, 1975-77. Engineer: Robert Gooch. Producer: Antonio Armet
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92380 [3 CDs: 56:32 + 59:09 + 58:49 = 2hrs 55min]

CD 1

1. Amadeo VIVES "Por el hume sabe" Doña Francisquita 4'33; 2. Reveriano SOUTULLO & Juan VERT "Bella inamorata" El último romántico 4'15; 3. José SERRANO "Canción húngara" Alma de Dios 4'58; 4. Ruperto CHAPÍ "Jota" La Bruja 4'20; 5. Jacinto GUERRERO "Fiel espada triunfadora" El huésped el sevilliano 3'28; 6. Federico MORENO Torroba "De este apacible rincón de Madrid" Luisa Fernanda 3'42; 7. Pablo LUNA "Pajarin tu que vuelas" La pícara molinera 4'48; 8. José SERRANO "La que quiera saber" La alegría del batallón 2'24; 9. Jesús GURIDI "Yo no sé que veo en Ana Mari" El caserio 5'10; 10. José SERRANO "Los de Aragón" Los de Aragón 4'52; 11. Tomás BRETÓN Preludio La verbena de la Paloma 4'00; 12. Gerónimo GIMÉNEZ Intermedio El baile de Luis Alonso 3'20; 13. Ruperto CHAPÍ Preludio Las bravías 1'55; 14. Federico CHUECA Preludio La alegía de la huerta 4'53
José Carreras, tenor
English Chamber Orchestra/Antoni Ros Marbà (1-10), Enrique Garcia Asensio (11-14)
CD 2

1. Federico CHUECA Preludio Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente 2'35; 2. Pablo LUNA "De españa vengo" El niño judío 5'37; 3. Ruperto CHAPI El barquillero 5'30; Federico CHUECA La Gran Via - 4. "Tango de la Ermenegilda" 3'37, 5. "Schotis del Eliseo madrileño" 3'37; 6. Gerónimo GIMÉNEZ Intermedio Soleares 3'35; Gerónimo GIMÉNEZ La Tempranica - 7. "Sierras de Granada" 6'03; 8. "Zapateado" 1'40; 9. Ruperto CHAPÍ La chavala 5'22; 10. Ruperto CHAPÍ "Carceleras" Las hijas del Zebedeo 4'38; 11. Gerónimo GIMÉNEZ Preludio Los borrachos 5'45; 12. Reveriano SOUTULLO & Juan VERT Intermedio La leyenda del beso 3'43; 13. Géronimo GIMÉNEZ Preludio El baile de Luis Alonso 2'23; 14. Pablo LUNA Danza India El niño judío 2'02; 15. Amadeo VIVES Fandango Doña Francisquita 2'27
Teresa Berganza, mezzo-soprano
English Chamber Orchestra/Enrique Garcia Asensio

José SERRANO Alma de Dios - 1. Preludio 1'15; 2. "Escena y Farruca" 4'25; 3. Franciso Asenjo BARBIERI El barberillo de Lavapiés 2'25; 4. José SERRANO La reina mora 5'45; 5. Reveriano SOUTULLO & Juan VERT El último romántico 3'35; 6. Ruperto CHAPÍ La patria chica 1'25; José SERRANO La alegria del battalón - 7. Escena 4'55; 8. "Canciön de la Gitana" 1'40; 9. Federico CHUECA El año pasado por agua 3'07; 10. Gerónimo GIMÉNEZ Intermedio La boda de Luis Alonso 2'47; 11. José SERRANO Los de Aragón 4'05; 12. Ruperto CHAPÍ La revoltosa 3'35; 13. Gerónimo GIMÉNEZ Preludio Enseñanza libre 3'57; 14. Federico CHUECA Preludio El bateo 3'02; 15. Pablo LUNA Danza del fuego Benamor 6'27; 16. Ruperto CHAPÍ Preludio La revoltosa 5'08
Teresa Berganza, soprano
English Chamber Orchestra/Enrique Garcia Asensio


Brilliant Classics may be easier to hunt down at Superdrug or Woolworths than in ‘respectable’ CM shops, but this tightly-run Dutch company is all about quality as well as phenomenal cheapness. Their ultra-super-bargain boxes now assay the mainstream Spanish vocal, orchestral and piano repertoire; and once again their chosen licences (from Ensayo, Delos, ASV and others) are as tasteful and discriminating as their packaging. Amongst several attractive recent issues this 3-CD set of zarzuela romanzas sung by José Carreras and Teresa Berganza, with Antoni Ros Marbà and Enrique García Asensio conducting the English Chamber Orchestra, is a stand-out. At around 5.99 Euros nobody could feel short-changed, but given superior quality performances from two world-famous Spanish singers this has to be amongst the best introductions to zarzuela available at any price.

José Carreras was caught at his prime in 10 classic romanzas. If compared against his more recent collection for Philips there's rarely a smile (or a true pianissimo) in the voice, his tone is much fuller and more burnished here. His diction is clear, his delivery forthright. Subtle dramatic variation was not high up his agenda in 1975, and we don't get much sense of context or character, but he is very winning in the big romantic sings. Every Hispanic tenor of note has sung "Por el hume sabe" from that greatest of all 1920s three-act zarzuelas Doña Francisquita (why on earth is this masterpiece not picked up by ENO?) and many have made fine recordings. In the 1920s and 1930s Carreras’s fellow Catalan Emilio Vendrell was simply in a different class for musicianship, beauty of tone and touching character, whilst for many Alfredo Kraus's sense of line makes him the post-war nonpareil; but the younger Carreras’s generous, youthful ardour proves a match for all other recent rivals.

The hero's moving outpouring of pent-up pride and bitterness from Los de Aragón is even better, standing out as excellent amongst much which is good. Ros Marbà contributes some neat interpretative points, teasing out unexpected subtleties in Torroba's Luisa Fernanda scoring and expected ones in the Vives and Luna tracks. His care, enhanced by the orchestra's quiet mastery and a notably clear and well-balanced recording, gives the lie to the lazy critical line that zarzuela composers were good at tunes but nothing else. The Brilliant transfer is miles better than in previous LP and CD incarnations, of which latter there have been at least two (on German Acanta and Spanish Ensayo) and altogether this is as good an advert for Carreras’s golden youth as any album he ever made.

About the same time Ensayo issued the two, beautifully planned LPs featuring Teresa Berganza which make up the lion’s share of this set, varied programmes of solos alternating with popular and lesser known orchestral preludios and intermedios, all wonderfully done. Especially given some unusually involved singing from Berganza, whose rich, even mezzo is taken at the flood, they make for just about the most satisfying straight-through listening experiences of the innumerable "zarzuela gala" albums on record. Highlights of CD 2 are Berganza's spectacular second version of the Carceleras from Las hijas del Zebedeo; and the sumptuous string playing in Gerónimo Giménez's Soleares intermedio - what a fabulous composer of these short orchestral pieces he was! The flamboyant showpiece Canción española from Luna's El niño judio has been endlessly recorded, by every soprano and mezzo from Conchita Supervía through to Montserrat Caballé and beyond, but never with such witty, imperious poise as here. Berganza manages to hint at the OTT flavour of Luna's Andalusian trills and strummings as well as the heartfelt, patriotic passion beneath. Zarzuela at its best, like the films of Almodóvar, can get you laughing and crying at the same time, and Berganza captures this just as spellbindingly as Victoria de los Ángeles in her famous EMI recital of romanzas under Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.

CD3 is centred on music from the more direct and demotic género chico repertoire, one-act zarzuelas of popular life from around the turn of the century. Mostly we get lively, Andalusian-style gypsy "Spanishry", rather than the working-class street scenes unique to the chico repertoire; but it's all well done and the programming cleverly rings the changes, opening with the atmospheric song-and-dance camp sequence from Serrano's Alma de Dios, and ending as far as the singer's contribution goes with a notably sensual guajiras, a street song and dance imported from 19th century Cuba, taken from Chapí's masterpiece La revoltosa.

Note "the singer's contribution"; for Brilliant have thrown in a hidden bonus of orchestral items to fill out the 3 CDs. Taken from a fourth Ensayo LP, again previously reissued in various CD incarnations of lesser quality, these 13 (of 16) preludios and intermedios are no mere padding. The music by Luna, Giménez, Chueca and others is simply superb - exhilarating, colourful and subtle by turns. Like the Berganza recitals, these readings sit very near the top of the class, very nearly equalling more celebrated Alhambra LP collections from Ataulfo Argenta and Frühbeck de Burgos. Under García Asensio's fiery direction, the English Chamber Orchestra - at the time amongst the world's best smaller ensembles - play this vibrant music with flexible style, almost as if they hailed from Lavapiés rather than London. The molten Danza del fuego from Luna's Persian sex-romp operetta Benamor is specially winning, but high standards rule throughout. With such good transfers as well as informed, literate liner notes and reminiscences from Enrique Franco - though alas no texts for the songs - this Brilliant box easily lives up to its name. At the giveaway price, nobody should hesitate for a moment.

Christopher Webber

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