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Anton GARCÍA ABRIL (b.1933)
Madre Asturias - A Collection of Asturian Songs: Vaqueiras [3.41]; Non te pares a mió puerta [3.38]; Ayer vite na fonte [4.27];Tengo de subir [3.56]; Yo no soy mariner [3.10]; Ella lloraba por mi [4.13]; El Naranjo de Bulnes [4.01]; No llores, niňa [2.51]; Una estrella se perdió [3.40]; Duermete neňu [3.40]; El canto del urogallo [4.21]; Hasta los naranjales [4.11]; Adiós, xana [3.55]; Madre Asturias [3.55]
Joaquin Pixán (tenor); Rosa Torres-Pardo (piano)
rec. Monastery de Coris, Cangas del Narcea, Asturias, Spain, August 2007; Palacia del Marqués de Casa Bimenes, Asturias, October 2007
NAXOS 8.572073 [53.40]
Experience Classicsonline

Ah, Asturias. North-West Spain before you get to Galicia. The name conjures up magic and history and exoticism. Musically one may think of Albeniz. Well, back in the 1980s the regional government decided that they needed to promote themselves more, their area and their culture. So what did they do? They commissioned some music from an Asturian composer. If only British regional boards would do such things and the work that was turned out was a set of songs for voice and orchestra 'Catorce canciones asturianas' by Garcia Abril. It was inspired also and promoted by Joaquin Pixán a bright, perhaps at times over-robust but typically romantic Spanish tenor. He is accompanied here with much sensitivity and understanding throughout by Rosa Torres-Pardo.

A few years later Garcia Abril 'revisited' to quote the booklet essay by Ramón Avello 'the originals' and produced the songs recorded here. The melodies however come from several much earlier published sources. These are listed by Avello and include 'Forty Asturian Songs of 1914 by Baldomero Fernandez. From even earlier - 1890 - the 'Cantos Populares' form a further source. The piano parts and the orchestral parts of the 1984 work I presume to be pure Abril.

Naxos tells us that 'for copyright reasons' they cannot include the song texts in the booklet or on the website; however a résumé of each song's history and story is clearly given.

I will pin-point a few of my favourites. Let's take the fourth song 'Tengo desbir al puerto' (I have to climb the pass). This begins with a beautiful piano introduction, as do most, 'recreating the melismatic ornament of the voice' before the voice enters. After the first verse the piano takes another solo turn as it does between lines later on; very much an equal partner. This popular song comes from the Fernandez Songbook mentioned above. This collection was also the source of the next song: the lively dance-like 'Yo no soy marinero' (I am not a sailor). The middle section is a new layer of words by José León Delestal. The music is not only lively but there are lyrical, romantic sections to add variety. Delestal, born in 1921 and who died in 1989, supplies the texts or part of the texts for about ten other songs. Otherwise they are entirely traditional.

Another song I like is 'Adiós, xana' (Goodbye Water nymph) which has a subtext about the ravages of mining which destroys the landscape. It is in binary form and its melancholy melody is, as the booklet remarks, 'inspired'. The opening piano prelude is quite impassioned and the melody is always at a high emotional pitch. The last song 'Madre Asturias' sums up a love and nostalgia for the area as captured in texts especially written, to round off the cycle, by Delestal.

The Naxos Spanish Classics series has thrown up all sorts of fascinating and wonderful music by unknown Iberians. I count myself an Hispanophile but this one is more for Spanish-speaking peoples or aficionados of Spanish music. This is in part down to the lack of texts but also because it taps into a traditional source of words. It is partially in the Asturian dialect, draws on musical sources which are not at all known to non-Spanish speakers and with which one may have a limited sympathy.

On the other hand you may feel that this fits the bill perfectly. Certainly at Naxos price there isn't much to be lost.

Gary Higginson 

see also review by Ian Bailey



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