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Lorenzo PALOMO (b.1938)
Cantos del alma, for soprano, clarinet and orchestra (2002) [24:47]1
Sinfonía a Granada, for soprano, guitar and orchestra (2007) [33:12]2
Maria Bayo (soprano); José Luis Estellés (clarinet)1; Vicente Coves (guitar)2; Luis García Montero (narrator)2;
City of Granada Orchestra/Jean-Jacques Kantorow
rec. 4-10 June 2007, Auditorium Manuel de Falla, Granada
Texts and translations available at
NAXOS 8.570420 [57:59]
Experience Classicsonline

Lorenzo Palomo, a native of Córdoba, is a composer in whose music the traditions of Andalusia are never very far to seek – though he now lives in Berlin. His work has been fairly extensively performed in Spain and elsewhere; his Canciones españolas had its first performance, by Montserrat Caballé in 1987 at Carnegie Hall, for example, and his Dulcinea was premiered in May of 2006 in the Berlin Konzerthaus, with the chorus and orchestra of the Berlin Deutsche Oper. This is the second CD devoted to his work in the Naxos series of Spanish Classics: see the review by Göran Forsling and the review by Evan Dickerson.

Cantos del alma sets four poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958), a fellow Andalusian, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1956. The four texts chosen concentrate on Jiménez’ poetic skill in the evocation of landscape and object, but the selection also allows Palomo to respond to the poet’s sense of the interaction between the human soul and its surroundings, this being essentially the poetry of a kind of belated romanticism. In his settings, Palomo’s writing for the clarinet is particularly fine, not least at the beginning and end of the sequence. In the last song, ‘Los palacios blancos’, setting lines on the death of a child, the interweaving of soprano and clarinet achieves a poignant beauty, in music which is simultaneously elegiac and expressive of a sense of transfiguration, as the soul of the child enters the ‘white palaces’ of heaven. The four poems are symmetrically separated by an orchestral interlude which carries the title ‘Serenata antillana’. The reference to the Antilles evokes Jiménez’ much loved wife and inspiration, Zenobia Camprubí, whose family came from Puerto Rico – the island coming to be very valuable to the poet. Unfortunately on my copy, this track was faulty, though I could hear enough to find the piece richly evocative. Cantos del alma is the more substantial of the two works on this disc, the poems of Jiménez stimulating Palomo to the composition of music of considerable emotional depth and beauty.

The second work here, Sinfonía a Granada is a little more lightweight. The work was commissioned by the Regional Government of Granada and, though one doesn’t doubt the sincerity of the composer’s fascination with that wonderful city and its surrounding area, there are times when the music doesn’t entirely rise above the level of vivid local colour, when it settles for being a kind of high-class musical tourist brochure. Clarinet and soprano voice are replaced by guitar and soprano, poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez are, as it were, replaced by (lesser) poems by Luis García Montero. Again there are four songs and an instrumental interlude – though this time the interlude occurs after the third song rather than after the second. Montero himself is heard as a narrator. The writing for guitar – played with fluent idiomatic control by Vicente Coves – is steeped in the musical gestures of flamenco, especially the rhythmic patterns of the bulerías. ‘Subiendo a la Alhanbra’ is a kind of musical aubade, and the rhythm of the bulería again dominates in ‘La tierra y el mar’, where affinities with Rodrigo are perhaps most noticeable. ‘Danza del Sacromonte’ was, the composer tells us, inspired by a specific experience: “A couple of years ago I was spending the night in the company of the great flamenco singer, Enrique Morente, and other friends in the narrow streets of Sacromonte. A gipsy girl came out if a cave some distance from us. She was very graceful with long hair, and carrying a guitar. The tapping of her shoes resonated loudly in my ears. Her silhouette, lit up by the moon, stood out marvellously in the night. That image fascinated me”. The result is a striking piece, a miniature tone poem full of vivid colours and rhythmic patterns. It is a piece which might surely find its way into programmes, on disc or in the concert hall, independent of the rest of the Sinfonía a Granada. And perhaps in that suggestion lies the problem. The very title ‘Sinfonia’ perhaps encourages one to expect more unity than one encounters here. The work tends to fragment into five sections; in truth it would have been better described as a suite. As such, it contains - with its echoes of flamenco and gipsy rhythms, of Rodrigo, of the remembered melismata of much older musical traditions, some pleasantly attractive and colourful music, but feels a little lightweight after the powerful songs of the Cantos del alma.

Palomo has been very well served by his performers here. The two instrumental soloists are excellent and any Spanish composer (one is tempted to say any composer) who has his music sung by Maria Bayo is on to a very good thing. The City of Granada Orchestra play with discipline and colour under the direction of Jean-Jacques Kantorow. The whole makes a useful addition to a valuable series.

Glyn Pursglove


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