Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
El Sombrero de Tres Picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) ((Introduccion (Introduction) [1:24]; La tarde (Afternoon) [5:34]; Danza de la molinera (Fandango) (Dance of the Millers Wife) [3:40]; Las uvas (The Grapes) [4:01]; Danza de los vecinos (Seguidillas) (The Neighbours Dance) [3:12]; Danza del molinera (Farruca) (Millers Dance) [7:50]; Danza del corregidor (Corregidors Dance) [6:55]; Danza final (Jota) (Final Dance) [6:13]) (1919)
Victoria de los Angeles (soprano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Raphael Frühbeck de Burgos
Zarzuela Arias: La Canción del Olvido [2:20]; EI Rey Que Rabio [5:08]; Bohemios [4:14]; El Cabo Primero [4:35]; Marina [4:40]; [EI Barquillero [6:40]; El Niño Judio [6:47]; La Rosa del Azafran [3:35]
Montserrat Caballé
Orchestra/Eugenio M. Marco
rec. El sombrero de tres picos: Transferred from Angel 4-track tape. rec. 28-30 October, 2 December 1964, No 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London; Zarzuela Arias: Transferred from RCA 4-track tape. rec. 1966

Not so very long ago I enthusiastically welcomed a 2 CD EMI Classics set which included this Frühbeck de Burgos El Sombrero de Tres Picos. Here it is again in new colours. This is the version that won me around to the work back in the 1970s when BBC Radio 3 broadcast it one afternoon. Even allowing for the radio engineers’ tender ministrations - nowhere near so intrusive in those days - the sheer power and refinement of the recording utterly captivated me. The cries of Ole! have never sounded so fervent … even possessed. This HDCD transfer of the Philharmonia 1963 El Sombrero is the best I have ever heard. You will have to get used to the analogue hiss which is noticeable in a low key way. More positively you can revel in the gripping Decca-type close-up balance. No detail is allowed to fall into the soup. Dynamic range may be a shade narrower with vivid close-up balances but the music still emerges with stunning immediacy. Compare the results, if you know them, with Fremaux’s Studio 4 Massenet El Cid ballet music and Decca's FFRR En Saga for Horst Stein and the OSR in 1972. The blazing strings may be a mite glassy but all can be forgiven with so much else that is devastatingly alluring. Try, for example, the woodwind writing in Danza de la Molinera. Victoria de Los Angeles is in youthful and all-conquering voice. Unlike the HDCD Schmitt reissue - also reviewed this month - this recording is from reels and the advantages of that provenance are beyond question. There we are then - not the most natural of balances but the disc unleashes a flood of magnificent sound, musical detail and ideas. You too will be shouting out the Oles with the choirs gathered in 1963 in the Kingsway Hall It’s one of the peaks of the recorded music heritage. Why cannot all CDs sound like this? Breathtaking! Only at tr. 6 does the imperious brass prove momentarily too much for the technology.

Don't be put off by HDCD's label design decisions. They’re still a bit brash but what matters is the marriage of music and technology and this the company has to a tee. Long may their quest for commercial reels continue. The results are glorious. In the final Jota the climactic launch is built ineluctably with Frühbeck de Burgos in total mastery of timing, tempo and the semblance of spontaneity. The Philharmonia’s whirring triple forte castanets rattle the speakers, harps slash through the texture, the brass are brazenly eruptive with rhythmic life blazing from every bar - a wide-smiling celebration. Extraordinary!

Caballé's way with the eight Zarzuela arias is lower key but beguiling certainly. Marco's directing of the orchestra is also adroit. These confections are taken from an RCA 4 track tape and the sessions date from 1966. I would be grateful if a Zarzuela expert - which I obviously am not - would tell me the composer of each of these arias and the name and date of the zarzuela from which each is taken. The music ranges in style between Mozart and Rossini with Spanish flavour often strongly sprinkled. Caballé is in magnificent dark wine voice and is just as indefatigable at triple forte as at triple piano. Admirers of Caballe should not miss this.

The de Falla is from the greatest vintage and the Caballé constituency need to hear the young diva in her grandest sunrise.

Rob Barnett