Highly esteemed in his lifetime, though sadly neglected since,
Bretón built an enviable reputation on the theatrical music that
he composed between 1875 and 1896. The Preludes to four of his
zarzuelas are included on this disc. They take the form of little
symphonic poems which tell the story of the opera in just a few
moments of romantic and elegantly scored music.
In a review recently of Bretón’s Chamber works
(Naxos 8.570713) I wrote how disappointed I was because I had
the “expectation that we might have something a little more
Spanish in flavour”. Well, this new CD gives us more of an indication
as to where Bretón was going in his plans to introduce an original,
nationalistic opera. In doing so he evolved a nationalistic
style pre-empting Granados, Albeniz and de Falla by only a few
years. One could say that Breton was the father of this great
school of Spanish composers.
Of the opera preludes, the one to ‘Los Amantas
de Teruel’ is the most immediately interesting. It encapsulates
a powerful and lyrical section for the lovers, a battle scene
and their meeting in Heaven - all compressed into just over
The story behind ‘Garin’ is of a monk in medieval
Montserrat. He is accused of raping the daughter of a local
count. All ends well however resulting in the dancing of the
Sardana - a Catalan dance. Here I had a shock because back in
2002 when I was in Perpignan I recorded on video a sardana.
I realized that Breton uses the very same tune which I had recorded
over one hundred years later. The informative booklet notes
by Victor Sánchez Sanchez tell us that Breton used folk tunes
in other works.
I must add at this stage that the track numbering
is incorrect something which Naxos should have picked up on. The
‘Garin’ prelude should be track 5 not track 7 which actually is
the prelude to Breton’s first opera ‘Guzmán el
bueno’.[see footnote] I started off thinking that this prelude
was a Sullivanesque joke, a cousin of Mikado with its mock-Moroccan
melody for the conquest of Iberia and Christian heroic march tune.
As it went on it became irritating and dull and I expect never
to play that track again.
The prelude to Bretón’s longest opera ‘La Dolores’
is the shortest on the disc, too short really to make its point.
It comprises a very Spanish mix of melodies and rhythms taken
from the opera and ends in a brief ‘jota’.
The longest and most interesting work on this disc
is the ‘Escenas andaluzas (Andalucian Scenes). This is a four
movement tone picture. Bretón spent much of his life (from 1885)
as an orchestral conductor in Madrid. There he composed, as
well as operas and zarzuelas, three symphonies. He was an experienced
orchestrator and these skills of orchestral familiarity emerge
fully in this the best work here. One can sense that apart from
its intrinsic attractions it is building a foundation for the
music of Albeniz and de Falla. It opens with a colourful ‘Bolero’.
A ‘Polo’ uses an evocative oboe solo over string pizzicatos
to conjure a steamy outdoor guitar. The next ‘Marcha y saeta’
is a slightly comic, processional march set in Holy Week. Its
middle section uses the cor anglais to intone a quasi-plainchant
saeta - a devotional song. Finally another Andalucian dance
- a lively ‘Zapateado’ - brings the piece to a happy conclusion.
I enjoyed the work tremendously. It made me want to get back
to that wonderful part of the world as soon as possible.
It would be foolish to say that the orchestra here
are a top-flight outfit but they have been very thoroughly drilled,
well rehearsed and quite closely recorded. The orchestral detail
is well captured and fine points like harp glissandi and castanets
can be heard clearly. The strings are well forward and they
carry the main weight of the music. Anyway this generally undemanding
music offers them few challenges. Miguel Roa steers them around
the occasional tricky corners with alacrity.
‘En la Alhambra’ which ends the CD is a charming,
elegant and slightly exotic single movement piece. It is lightly
scored and has the air of an escapee from Carmen. It
was very popular at the time and still has a certain if somewhat
What we need next are the symphonies so we can
judge whether Breton could tackle the composition of music which
demanded a more thoughtful, philosophical and gritty approach.
So Naxos, what about it?
This is an enjoyable disc well worth the modest
see also Review
by John Sheppard
Comment from the Conductor
Roa advises: Track 5 is the Prelude to Guzman el Bueno,
and Track 7 is the Sardana from Garin.
The booklet and rear inlays have been revised