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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline


Tomás BRETÓN (1850-1923)
Prelude to Los amantes de Teruel (1889) [10.30]; Prelude to Guzmán el bueno (1876) [8.13]; Prelude to Garin (1892) [7.21]; Prelude to La Dolores (1895) [4.02]; En la Alhambra (1888) [7.43]; Escenas andaluzas (1894) [26.08]
Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid/Miguel Roa
rec. March 2004 and September 2005 at the Rehearsal Hall of the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid, Teatro Isabel Clara Eugenia, Spain. DDD
NAXOS 8.572076 [64.14]
Experience Classicsonline

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 ten minutes. 

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 muted atmosphere. 

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 financial outlay. 

Gary Higginson

see also Review by John Sheppard


Comment from the Conductor

Miguel 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


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