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Don Quixote in Spanish Music
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Ausencias de Dulcinea (1947-8) [12:24] 1
José García ROMÁN (b.1945)
La resurrección de Don Quijote (1993-4)
[16:45] 2

Francisco Asenjo BARBIERI (1823-1894)
Don Quijote (1861) [9:46] 3
Jorgé Fernández GUERRA (b.1952)
Tres momentos de Don Quichotte (2004-5) [18:06]
Gerardo GOMBAU (1906-1971)
Don Quijote velando las armas (1945) [9:11]
Orquesta y Coro de la Comminidad de Madrid/José Ramón Encinar, with  Lillian Moriani, Victoria Marchante, Celia Alcedo (soprano); María José Suárez (mezzo); Antonio José Lopez (baritone) 1;  Víctor Arriola (violin) 2; Fernando Cobo (tenor) 3.
rec. 13-22 July 2005, Sede de la Orquesta y Coro de la Communidad de Madrid, Hortaleza, Madrid
NAXOS 8.570260 [66:12]


Cervantes’ great novel is full of music. The shepherd Antonio sings a verse romance, accompanying himself on the rebeck; Cardenio sings a beautiful love song; Altisidora sings a love song to the accompaniment of the harp; and there are many others too. Don Quixote himself sings a song in reply to Altisidora, accompanying himself on the lute, in a “hoarse but not unmusical voice” (a performance which is brought to an end when a sack full of cats, with bells on their tails, is released from the room above!).

There is a fascinating passage in which Don Quixote considers the attractions of the pastoral life:

What a life we shall lead, friend Sancho! What a world of bagpipes shall we hear! What pipes of Zamora! What tambourets! What tabors! And what rebecks! And, if to all these different musics be added the albogues, we shall have almost all the pastoral instruments.

(Responding to Sancho’s enquiry, Quixote explains that ‘albogues’ are, in effect, cymbals, the name being, he explains, Moorish).

Jordi Savall, a couple of years ago, put together a marvellous 2 CD set, Don Quijote de la Mancha: Romances y Músicas (Alia Vox ASVA 984 3A+B), combining readings from the book with music of the time.

Later composers and musicians have not been slow to pay their tribute to – or simply to exploit – the novel. Operas based on Don Quixote, or episodes from it, abound. They include such eighteenth century works as Antonio Caldara’s Sancio Panza (1733), Telemann’s Don Quichotte der Löwenritter (1761), Salieri’s Don Chisciotte alle Nozze di Gamace (1770) and Dittersdorf’s Don Quixote der Zweyte (1779); nineteenth century works include Mercadante’s Don Chisciotte (1829) and Wilhelm Kienzl’s Don Quixote (1898); in modern times the list includes Massenet’s Don Quichotte (1910) and de Falla’s El Retablo de Maese Pedro (1923). If one added to all the operas, the musicals, the song settings (such as those by Ibert and Ravel), the orchestral works (eg. by Rubinstein, Strauss and Guridi) and the list would be very long indeed. Now, on this enterprising disc from Naxos we have the chance to get to know some Cervantes responses by five Spanish composers – a chance well worth taking, even if the music is variable in quality as well as stylistic predisposition.

The earliest piece here, Barbieri’s Don Quijote, was written for a commemoration of Cervantes in 1861 and was a contribution to a play written for the event by Ventura de la Vega. Its three short parts are made up of an attractively melodic setting for tenor and orchestra of the first stanza of some verses sung by Cardenio in Chapter 27 of Part I of Don Quixote; a bailete for orchestra, colourfully orchestrated; and a rather ponderous closing section for tenor, chorus and orchestra which is a hymn of praise to Cervantes himself (the booklet notes provide texts and translations of the words for the first and third sections). This is pleasant music, very much of its period, worth the hearing, if not necessarily demanding many rehearings.

We jump to 1945 for Gombau’s symphonic poem Don Quijote velando las armas (Don Quixote keeps vigil over his armour), is a stirring piece which is clearly in line of descent from Richard Strauss; grandeur (with touches of irony) alternates with tenderness. Since the booklet notes tell us that the piece is “programmatic in nature [and] sets out to portray specific episodes from the novel” it would have been nice to have been told what these were. Still, even without that information, this is an entertaining and musically rewarding work, one of the definite positives of this disc. It would be good to hear more of Gombau’s music.

Written just a year or two after Gombau’s work, Rodrigo’s Ausencias de Dulcinea (The Absence of Dulcinea) is a striking piece which contrives both to laugh at Don Quxote’s absurdity as a would-be lover of Dulcinea del Toboso and to register a certain compassion for his sufferings, so that, as in the novel itself, Quixote emerges with a kind of absurd dignity. Using the unusual forces of a bass/baritone soloist (here the excellent José Antonio López) and a chorus of four sopranos, with full orchestra, the work sets verses written in the sand by Quixote in Chapter 26 of Part I of the novel. The orchestral writing is colourful, the interplay of male voice with soprano chorus intriguing. A work definitely demanding – and rewarding – a good number of rehearings.

An altogether more modern soundworld is inhabited by José Garcia Román’s La resurrección de Don Quijote, written for string orchestra to a commission from the Orquesta y Coro Nacionales de Espana. A study in textures, characterised by insistent rhythmic patterns and some odd timbres, the work has some arresting passages but struggles to be more than the sum of its parts, for all its creation of a rather dreamlike mood.

Jorge Fernández Guerra’s Tres momentos de Don Quichotte was written to accompany a showing of Pabst’s 1933 film Don Quichotte. What we are offered here is three from twenty numbers written to accompany the film. They are entitled ‘Don Quixote’s first sally’, a moody adagio of suitably nocturnal ambience; ‘Attack on the windmills’, with evocations of Quixote on horseback; and ‘Don Quixote is reborn from the ashes’, of which the composer writes that it accompanies the epilogue to the film “which shows the burning of the book in reverse, a rebirth from the ashes”. Fernandez Guerra’s music is well made, but rather uniform in tempo and dynamics, so that it struggles to hold the listener’s interest throughout (it is the longest work on the disc) without the filmic images it was written to complement.

The works by Rodrigo and Gombau are particularly worth getting to know, but there is nothing here that doesn’t offer rewards of some sort. The work of the soloists, chorus and orchestra is exemplary, and Encinar shows that he deserves his growing reputation, on this well recorded disc.

Glyn Pursglove


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