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Tomás BRETÓN (1850-1923)
Piano Trio (1887) [34.42]
Four Spanish Pieces (1911) [18.44]
LOM Piano Trio (Joan Orpella (violin); José Mor (cello); Daniel Ligorio (piano))
rec. Auditorium ‘Paper de Música’, Capellades, Barcelona, Spain, November 2006, April 2007
NAXOS 8.570713 [53.26] 
Experience Classicsonline

The attractive picture on the CD’s cover is of Salamanca Cathedral. Why
Salamanca? Well that was where Bretón was born in somewhat humble circumstances. However ‘the boy done good’ you might say. At a very young age he trained in Madrid and later became a significant figure there as director of the Conservatoire and as a leading light in the composition of zarzuela, the hour long entertainment based on Spanish stories and culture. He wrote orchestral works, including three symphonies and much chamber music. It seems odd that little of his music has been recorded although I seem to recall a few pieces in the early 1990s on Marco Polo. He is almost entirely unknown outside Spain. 

Joan Orpella who plays violin in the LOM Piano Trio writes in his rather brief booklet notes that Bretón “labored hard to re-energize the world of Spanish music and took particular pains to introduce the idea of an original, nationalistic opera”. He goes on to say that “ironically, he was criticized for not being Spanish enough”. Writing about the Piano Trio Orpella comments that Bretón attempts to “leave aside the light atmosphere of the zarzuelas, and write instead in a manner closer to the German or Italian style”. Bretón had studied in Rome where he gained a scholarship; consequently he can be seen as truly international composer. 

I find the Piano Trio, although immensely charming and beautifully composed, somewhat disappointing. I suspect that it was the expectation that we might have something a little more Spanish in flavour. Instead I found myself finding its opening almost classical. Its slow movement seems influenced by Saint-Saëns whom Bretón much admired, its finale being Dvořákian. Only its Scherzo seeming a little more original. Yet there is more if one digs a little deeper. There are some quite interesting key shifts and Spanish melodies have indeed been subtly introduced. I noted a distinctly Spanish feel to the Scherzo and trio (is it in 6/8 or 3/4?). These have been intermixed with the styles of the composers mentioned above so that an originality is created. A sense of real enjoyment propels the listener forward, although I do find the first movement a little prolix. Amongst the work’s especial attractions would be the opening cello cantilena to the second movement, answered by the violin and then in conversation with it. 

The LOM Piano Trio seems in very good form and obviously enjoys the music. The recording is beautifully balanced and realistic. There are a couple of photos of them in the booklet and we are told that they recorded a disc completely devoted to Shostakovich in 2007 but I can find no other reference of it. 

The other work here is even more attractive. The ‘Cuatro piezas españolas’ divides up as follows. Number 1 is entitled ‘Danza Oriental’. Its opening melody on the piano and then cello is certainly searching for something ‘oriental’ but there is little sense in this performance of a dance. The ‘Scherzo Andalusia’ hits the Spanish mark which Bretón has exhorted his own pupils to explore. It comes as no surprise that Manual de Falla was one of those pupils but by 1911 the teacher had learned more than a little from the pupil. Third comes a ‘Bolero’. A steady dance in ¾ time - nothing like Ravel, by the way. Bolero is a word which covers many styles of Spanish dance and song. Bretón’s version has a contrasting central section in the major key. I instantly fell in love with the last movement ‘Polo Gitano’ where de Falla and Andalucian folk music seem to be so close. The long opening violin note evokes the Flamenco singer as she starts her incantation, the piano enhancing the effect with its moto perpetuo bounding rhythm. Sadly, the movement appears too short and one is left wanting more. Surely however this is the idiom Bretón was aiming at.

This is obviously not an earth-shattering release but it is an extremely civilized one. I shall certainly try to investigate more of Tomas Bretón’s music. My only regret is that I feel somewhat cheated at having a mere fifty-three minutes of music even at Naxos’s wonderful bargain price.

Gary Higginson 

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf



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