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Carlos Álvarez en concierto
Georges BIZET (1838–1875)

1. Suite No. 1 [12:31
2. Votre toast, je peux vous render [4:06]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)

Don Carlo:
3. Per me giunto … O Carlo, ascolta … io morro, ma lieto in coro [8:33]
Il trovatore:
4. Il balen del suo sorriso [4:48]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)

La favorita:
5. Vien Leonora [6:31]
Jerónimo JIMÉNEZ (1854–1923)

Las bodas de Luis Alonso:
6. Overture [6:05]
Agustín Pérez SORIANO (1846–1907)

7. Suena guitarrico mío [3:44]
José SERRANO (1873–1941)

La canción del olvido:
8. La cancion de Leonello [3:46]
Francisco ALONSO (1887–1948)

La Linda tapada:
9. Borrico corre ligero [4:44]
Reveriano SOUTULLO (1884–1933) Juan VERT (1890–1931)

La del Soto del Parral:
10. los cantos alegres [5:40]
Federico Moreno TORROBA (1891–1982)

Luisa Fernanda:
11. ¡Ay, mi morena, morena clara! [4:52]
12. Por el amor de una mujer [3:19]
Carlos Álvarez (baritone)
Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León/Miquel Ortega i Pujol
rec. live, Palacio de Festivales de Cantabria, Santander, Spain, 8 August 2001
RTVE 65149 [68:48]

Málaga-born baritone Carlos Álvarez has been around on the international circuit for more than a decade and a half by now, having made his debut in 1990 at Madrid’s Teatro de la Zarzuela. He has appeared in all the important opera houses and participated in recordings but this is his first solo disc, recorded six years ago at a concert during the International Festival of Santander.

The orchestra is a fairly new one, founded in 1991 and located in Valladolid. Miquel Ortega I Pujol belongs to the younger generation of Spanish conductors, born in 1963. They open the concert with a well-played and springy performance of the orchestral suite from Carmen, atmospherically recorded but slightly marred by a too prominent harp in the interlude before act 3, where the flute soloist almost plays a secondary role. They also open the second part of the concert with a riveting version of the overture to Jiménez’s zarzuela Las bodas de Luis Alonso, one of the most infectious pieces in the repertoire with lively rhythms, catchy tunes and colourful orchestration. It may seem mean to mention the orchestral music before the soloist in what after all is an opera recital, but I think it is only fair, since there is such excellence in their playing.

Carlos Álvarez can’t quite muster such excellence, even though there is a lot to admire. He has a powerful voice with darkish timbre and virile delivery. He tends to chop up the musical line sometimes when trying to be expressive, noticeably so in the Toreador aria, but he has the right voice for the part and he has lyrical qualities too. His voice can best be described as similar to the young Tom Krause’s, who also was a great Escamillo, though he never pressed the voice too hard, which Álvarez sometimes does.

One can also hear an annoying beat in the voice on sustained notes and he is not always steady enough. Still he delivers a well sung and sensitive reading of Posa’s death scene from Don Carlo, which is the best of the Italian arias on this recital. Il balen from Il trovatore is sturdy enough but he misses the lyrical qualities in what is after all an impassioned love song and he presses too hard. He phrases sensitively in the Favorita aria but this is far from true bel canto singing. I took out the old Donizetti recital with Renato Bruson, once available in Decca’s "Grandi Voci" series, and the two singers are worlds apart. It should be pointed out that these three arias are all preceded by the recitatives and in the case of La favorita also a quite substantial orchestral introduction.

The second half of the concert, devoted to Spanish zarzuela music, presents Álvarez in a much more positive light. The tone is more concentrated, the beat less noticeable and he sings with greater freedom and lightness. In the Guitarrico aria he scales down to a true pianissimo and he has more ebb and flow in his phrasing here than in the Italian section. I believe that we are faced with that old phenomenon that singing in one’s mother tongue liberates the voice. The aria from Serrano’s La canción del olvido has brilliance and tonal beauty to match even Domingo’s recording and the two arias from Luisa Fernanda are in the same league. The aforementioned unsteadiness is not wholly absent in all the zarzuela arias, but by and large he produces singing here in a higher division. If I want to go back to this disc it will be primarily for the zarzuela arias and, pace señor Álvarez, the Jiménez overture.

There are no texts in the booklet and no notes on the music; just a short essay in Spanish on the Festival Internacional de Santander, which celebrated the 50th anniversary in 2001, and bios on Álvarez and Ortega I Pujol in both Spanish and English.

Göran Forsling


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