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Spain
Manuel de FALLA (1876–1946)
El amor brujo (1915) [27:51]
The Three-Cornered Hat (1919), excerpts [12:11]
The Neighbours’ Dance [3:21]
The Miller’s Dance [2:40]
Final Dance [6:10]
La vida breve (1913), excerpts [6:37]
Interlude [2:56]
Dance [3:41]
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860 – 1909) (trans. Enrique Arbós) (1906-08)
Iberia, Book 2
Triana [5:06]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867 – 1916)
Goyescas (1916)
Intermezzo [5:40]
Isaac ALBENIZ (trans. Enrique Arbós) (1906-08)
Iberia, Book 1
Fête-Dieu à Seville [8:01]
Iberia, Book 4
Navarra [5:39]
Leontyne Price (soprano) (El amor brujo)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
rec. 4 March 1963 (El amor brujo); 25 April 1958 (the rest)
RCA LIVING STEREO 88697 04607 2 [71:05]

 


A couple of years ago I reviewed a Naxos disc with de Falla’s two ballets, El sombrero de Tres Picos and El amor brujo (review). While I quite liked that disc I also went back to the more than 40-year-old Reiner recording of El amor brujo, and although I listened to it in the mono LP version I had owned since the 1960s it still almost bowled me over with enthusiasm. Now that it appears again, this time in three-channel SACD format, it is a pleasure to hear it in that much fuller, clearer and more detailed sound. The mono was good in itself but the stereo spread made so much more of nuances available and pin-point registration of where the individual instruments were located in the soundscape. Everything was there, as I remembered it, only a little more: the eager introduction, the mysterious darkness of In the cave, the frightening Dance of terror, the hushed concentration of The magic circle, the incisive rhythm, the biting strings and the impertinent trumpets of Ritual fire dance with the recurring crescendos masterly judged and the glowing warmth of Pantomime. What also was there was the raw, animal, down-to-earth singing of Leontyne Price, hardly sophisticated as Victoria de los Angeles, hardly Spanish but with an idiosyncratic intensity that you either love or hate. What surprised me was the impression of the voice half-buried in the orchestra, the soloist seemingly standing somewhere in the woodwind section. When played at moderate volume her singing lost a great deal of its impact; when I turned it up several steps she sounded as I remembered her, the hang-up being that the orchestra became almost too impressive. Going back to the LP Ms Price’s voice actually had greater prominence, just as I remembered it. Replaying Song of love’s sorrow in the SACD version a couple of times made me adjust to the balance and eventually I regarded the extra impact of the orchestra as pure gain. Not forgetting Frühbeck de Burgos with Victoria de los Angeles (EMI) I still regard Reiner’s as the finest reading of this score, the extra refinement of the Chicago Symphony’s playing being the deciding factor. Recorded in March 1963 this must have been one of the Hungarian maestro’s last recordings; he died in November that year, only a month before his 75th birthday.

The original coupling for El amor brujo was Les nuits d’été by Berlioz, also with Leontyne Price. I hope that it will also appear again. She isn’t the most French sounding of soloists - for that one has to go to Régine Crespin - but her reading still has that hard-to-define stamp of greatness. Here we have instead a five year-older Spanish programme with more music by de Falla and by his slightly older contemporaries Albéniz and Granados. Three excerpts from The Three-Cornered Hat are played with the same relish as the four years older sister ballet. Especially in the Final Dance there is a thrusting rhythmic vitality. From the opera La vida breve we get the atmospheric but rather becalmed Interlude, very much reflecting the opera as a whole: more atmosphere than drama. One of the exceptions is the Danse espagnole No. 1, here entitled only Dance, but it is the well-known piece we have heard in sundry arrangements, most famously by Fritz Kreisler. The original is springy and lushly scored and Reiner’s reading is vigorous.

The rest of the programme is made up of three movements from Albéniz’s piano suite Iberia in the colourful orchestral transcriptions by Enrique Arbós. Arrangements sometimes sound like arrangements but these could just as well have been conceived for orchestra from the outset. Arbós (1863–1939) originally became famous as a virtuoso violinist, having studied with Vieuxtemps and Joachim. Later he also embarked upon a career as one of Spain’s greatest conductors. As a composer he became popular for some violin pieces and also a piano trio. His comic opera El Centro de la Tierra (1895) was regularly played in Spain for a period. Today his fame rests primarily on the Iberia arrangements. I believe Albeniz would have liked them, since they catch the flavour of Spain more readily than ‘plain’ piano music can ever do. 

Also piano music from the beginning was Goyescas by Granados, a suite inspired by the paintings of Francisco Goya, which he partly used and developed into a three-act opera. It was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on 28 January 1916 and was a success – and a tragic one at that for the composer. As a result of the success he was invited by President Wilson to give a piano recital at the White House, thus having to postpone his voyage back to Spain. In the English Channel his ship was torpedoed by a German submarine on 24 March and both Granados and his wife lost their lives. The Intermezzo is the best known piece from the opera and is often performed separately. It is delicious music, beautiful, suggestive and expertly scored. Very early on I had a beloved recording of this piece with Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra. I bought the EP for the Cavalleria rusticana intermezzo but it was the Granados that I returned to most often. Good as Karajan was, Fritz Reiner is even more captivating, finding a restrained, hesitant lilt in the slow-moving music that is absolutely enchanting. I would opt for this for my desert island collection but the whole disc is splendid and the fresh SACD sound certainly belies its age. 

The booklet has notes on El amor brujo with a short résumé of the plot and an essay on Spanish music in general. 

Göran Forsling

 


 


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