Lorenzo PALOMO (b.1938)
Dulcinea - Poems by Carlos Murciano (b. 1931) (2006)
Dulcinea - Ainhoa Arteta (soprano); Teresa Panza - Cheri Rose Katz (mezzo); Sancho Panza - Burkhard Ulrich (tenor); Don Quijote - Arutjun Kotchinian (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/Miguel Angel Gómez Martínez
rec. live, 15 May 2006, Konzerthaus Berlin, Germany
Booklet notes and sung texts in Spanish and English.
NAXOS 8.572577 [58:15]

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.

Margarida Mota-Bull

I thoroughly enjoyed this. Palomo’s Dulcinea is a rare and beautiful work. An exquisite merger of text and music.