Here is excellent
news from one of the major record companies. For those who suspected
that the likes of DG were on the slippery slope to domination
by the cult of personality, here is a firm rebuttal. This is
a disc which has clearly been planned and thought out with care;
one of considerable repertoire interest …. and best of all,
a project which has been superbly undertaken by artists of quality.
It presents a fascinating
mix; two native composers and two from the country which - apart
from Russia - has been most musically obsessed with the Iberian
Peninsula …. France. Moreover the music is centred on Spain’s
most endearing literary character, all the works being written
within the comparatively short timescale of two decades.
The disc opens with
the Four Songs of Ibert. Consisting of settings by Pierre
de Ronsart and Alexandre Arnoux they form part of a 1932 score
for a film, directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, in which Fyodor
Chaliapin, no less, played Quixote and sang the songs for the
soundtrack. Although I have not heard the original I suspect
that Carlos Alvarez is a worthy successor. He boasts an excellent
voice throughout the range, the small amount of vibrato being
just enough to warm the tone without any excessive wobble. Furthermore
he is always alert to matters of characterisation – attributes
which are present in all his contributions to the recording.
Alvarez is, I believe, something of an under-appreciated singer,
at least in this country, and possibly will only be familiar
to readers through his occasional Saturday matinee broadcasts
from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. If so this disc should help
to improve his profile.
The second work
is de Falla’s “Master Peter’s Puppet Show”. Not ignored on disc
it is true, but hardly over-represented either, it is quite
splendidly performed here. Throughout, the composer achieves
his effects with a real economy of means. As soon as the work
opens, for example, the woodwind vividly conjure up skirling
pipes and the excitement of the puppet show’s arrival in a small
rural community. Falla’s chamber orchestra includes a harpsichord,
a difficult instrument to balance against a modern ensemble,
but here perfectly captured thanks to the skill of the engineers.
Indeed the recorded sound throughout the disc is exemplary with
just the right balance of warmth and clarity from, what appears
from the photographs included in the booklet, to be a modern
the opera the Don, rather than being the centre of attention
as he is in the other works on the disc, is here one of the
on-stage characters observing and ultimately interacting with
the show itself. The plot centres upon the capture and imprisonment
of Emperor Charlemagne’s daughter Melisandra. Following her
abduction by the Moors, she is eventually rescued by her husband,
the reluctant knight Don Gayferos. He however is rather lazy
and only spurred into action when publicly chided by his father-in-law!
After the Don has
determined to save his lady love the scene changes to Melisandra
incarcerated in a desolate tower, longing for her homeland of
France. However she is suddenly accosted by an “enamoured Moor”,
who has crept up behind her, and is kissed. Unfortunately for
him he is observed by his King and sentenced to swift and severe
punishment; we see him dragged off by guards, paraded through
the streets, and publicly beaten for his pains.
The scene then swiftly
cuts again back to the tower, and the arrival of Don Gayferos
on his trusty steed. He rescues his wife - who neatly jumps
from her tower directly on to his horse …. ouch! - before making
their escape on his trusty steed.
Pursued by the Moorish
King’s men Don Quixote, observing the show, now decides it’s
time for some outside intervention. Outraged that the escape
of such a Christian couple should be impeded by heathens, he
attacks the Moorish puppet characters in a delusional state
….. all this despite vehement protestations from the puppet
master. The work ends with Quixote reflecting on chivalry and
the actions of knights-errant, whilst the disconsolate Master
Peter is left to muse over his battered characters.
The opera is short
and can seem on first acquaintance somewhat odd, even disjointed.
With its brief scenes, as well as its tendency to cut swiftly
backwards and forwards between plot lines it seems, like the
Ibert, to have been influenced by the still infant world of
cinema. The somewhat “un-operatic” quality is further enhanced
by the use of a boy soprano as the narrator; a device which
may assist in establishing the mood of a puppet tale, but may
not be necessarily to everyone’s taste. Xavier Olaz Moratinos
does well with the role, but is not immune from the odd pitching
The remaining vocal
item on the CD is a rendering of Ravel’s “Don Quichotte a Dulcinee”,
a set of three songs …… and a little gem. In the first the conductor
Jose Ramon Encinar brings out the wonderfully lolloping rhythm
of the accompaniment, with gorgeous woodwind braying, presumably
the Don’s illustrious steed! In the second “Epic Song” the Don
muses over the protection given to chivalrous knights by the
saints, Michael and George, ending with a beautifully floated
“amen” from Alvarez. The concluding “Drinking Song” has echoes
of the Rapsodie Espagnole, ending with a delicious slide
on the cellos and double-basses.
If these were not
riches enough, the disc still has one further ace up its sleeve.
An orchestral work this time, DG gives us the rare opportunity
to hear “An adventure of Don Quixote” by the Spaniard Jesus
Guridi. Guridi decided in his tone poem to illustrate the story
of Quixote’s attack on two Benedictine friars, whom the Don
mistakes for necromancers, as they accompany a young woman in
a coach. In his delusion Quixote is convinced the passenger
is a princess being abducted by two blackguards. Alas so energetic
is his attack he manages to strike one of the friars to the
The resultant work
is a delight … it had for me reminiscences of a 1930s film score,
Errol Flynnish at times, but certainly none the worse for that!
I think many listeners would find it a very agreeable surprise.
In sum then, a distinguished
and enjoyable disc. It’s great to see that enterprise, imagination
- as well as the ability to put it all into action - isn’t just
restricted to the independents as some might have you think.
Indeed the next time you inwardly cringe at adverts by a major
company for the “new tenor sensation”, “wunderkind pianist”
or worse still a “wet tee-shirted violinist” … think of this