Lorenzo Palomo’s cantata, Dulcinea, is based on Miguel
de Cervantes’ magnificent and influential literary masterpiece
“Don Quijote de la Mancha”. The novel has been adapted countless
times into a ballet, a symphonic poem and many others genres:
You name it and you will almost certainly find it! So, do we
really need one more adaptation? I must say that at first, even
before listening to the CD, I thought that we did not. Add to
this the fact that I am not a great fan of contemporary music
- I continue to prefer the great classics - and I dislike the
Spanish language, which I find generally harsh and unpleasant
to the ear. I convinced myself that I was in for a couple of
hours of disappointment. Well, I was wrong!
Dulcinea, a “Cantata-Fantasy for a Knight in Love”, as
the composer calls it, was indeed a pleasant surprise right
from the beginning. Even before track three finished, I had
been completely won over. The work is divided into ten scenes
and although based on Cervantes’ novel, it differs slightly
from it. Palomo’s music is rather visual; he uses the orchestra
and choir to give us the images that emerge from Murciano’s
rich poetry. For example, the first scene of the Cantata, Los
molinos de viento, effectively evokes the windmills through
whistling whispers of the chorus to resemble the noise of the
wind on the sails. For the scene where Don Quijote attacks the
windmills, Palomo cleverly uses only the orchestra. He gives
a very powerful depiction of the scene, inviting the listener
to use the imagination and become creative too. The score is
full of originality though deeply rooted in Spanish musical
tradition, with all its vibrant colour, rhythm and passion.
Imaginative though Palomo’s music is, to my mind, the cantata
becomes a truly great piece due to Carlos Murciano’s exquisitely
beautiful poems. Though based on the original Cervantes’ novel,
they exist as independent texts in their own right. Murciano
keeps to the source but gives it a new, fresh dimension not
only by the sheer beauty and rhythmic flow of his words but
also by daring to deviate from the novel and go his own path.
He nearly silences Teresa Panza - who talks too much in the
original - and gives a voice to Dulcinea; in the novel, she
only exists in Don Quijote’s imagination. Murciano thus creates
what I think is the jewel in his elegant poetry for this piece:
the Canto de Dulcinea (Ballad of Dulcinea). If you understand
Spanish, ignore the translations; good though they are, the
full glory of Murciano’s poems can only be truly appreciated
if one reads them in the language in which he wrote them.
This Naxos CD is a live recording of the world premiere, which
took place at the Konzerthaus Berlin, Germany, on 15 May 2006.
The performance was led by distinguished conductor Miguel Angel
Gómez Martínez with the excellent orchestra and chorus of the
Deutsche Oper Berlin, and a quartet of outstanding singers.
I was a little doubtful about the casting of Armenian bass Arutjun
Kotchinian as Don Quijote, purely because I think that Kotchinian
is a stage “animal”. I saw him as Count Rodolfo in Bellini’s
La Sonnambula, at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, in 2006,
and he was magnificent. He stole every scene he was in even
when superstar tenor Juan Diego Flórez was present. Kotchinian
is an exceptional singer with an incredibly charismatic presence
on stage and a superb actor. Although live on stage, he would
be the perfect Don Quijote, I wondered if he could bring the
same kind of charisma in a purely audio recording. As I truly
admire his artistry, I am rather happy to say that I was completely
wrong. His performance as Don Quijote is totally captivating.
His delicate phrasing, the poignant singing and the dramatic
power, which he gives every word, make Don Quijote’s lament
very real and completely expresses the tragic, pathetic characteristics
of the Knight. Kotchinian is outstanding and must have been
magnificent on stage.
In Cervantes’ novel Dulcinea is an ideal of perfection, a vision
in Don Quijote’s dream. In this cantata she is accorded a voice
which is unusual but rather enriching for the harmony of the
piece as a whole. It is sung by the lovely Spanish soprano Ainhoa
Arteta. Her voice is beautifully sweet and delicate and her
diction is very clear. Possibly because she is a native Spanish
speaker, the intonation of the words is better than most and
she also demonstrates a deep feeling for the text in the way
she sings her ballad, Canto de Dulcinea. This gives the
listener the impression that Dulcinea is an ethereal being -
Don Quijote’s unattainable love ideal.
Mezzo Cheri Rose Katz, as Teresa Panza, and German tenor Burkhard
Ulrich, as Sancho Panza, though assigned minor roles, play them
very effectively, perfectly fitting in with the lead singers,
choir and orchestra.
I liked Miguel Angel Gómez Martínez’s direction of the orchestra.
He truly understands the characteristics of Spanish music; its
strong rhythms and vivid sounds. Palomo uses many orchestral
colours to depict core scenes such as La llamada del Caballero
(The Knight’s Fanfare) or Batalla de los molinos de viento
(The Battle of the Windmills). In the hands of a lesser conductor,
the vibrant musical images could easily have been lost but Gómez
Martínez gives them life and injects passion, making these scenes
highly effective. At the same time, he is able perfectly to
sustain the singers, without interfering with the voices, in
the sensitive lines of the beautiful Canto de Dulcinea
and the poignant Canto de Don Quijote. The orchestra
follows his lead with gusto and deliver a satsifying performance.
The chorus is simply outstanding and their three major pieces
– Canción del alba (Dawn Song), Seguidilla and
Abracadabra! – were to me the best, most effective parts
of the score.
Overall, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this recording.
Lorenzo Palomo’s Dulcinea is indeed a rare piece: A beautiful
work and an exquisite merger of text and music.
see also review by Glyn
Pursglove (August 2010 Recording of the