The disc is entitled "Three Portraits With Shadow".
It contains music
by three composers - but what could this "shadow" be? One doesn't need
to read the booklet to make a good guess: this is the shadow of Manuel de Falla,
who brought Spanish music into the XX century, and the XX century into Spanish
music. However, there is no imitation; the voices of the three composers are
so individual that de Falla's presence is felt only as a shadow. I praise this
ingenious choice of title. Another marvel is the liner-note by Blanca Calvo (in
English and Spanish). Delving deep and wide, the note paints the Spanish musical
landscape in the Twenties and Thirties, describes the life and personality of
each composer, tells the history of creation and supplies musical analysis of
each recorded piece. I would call the booklet exemplary, if only it had contained
the song texts with translations!
The Halffter brothers and Julián Bautista were members of "Grupo
de los ocho
" - the Spanish version of the French Les Six
aimed at bringing together the national and the modern, folklore and avant-garde.
They could have become pillars of the new Spanish music, if history had taken
a different course. The other name of the group was "Grupo de la República
which hints that the three composers had to emigrate after 1936.
The disc contains three vocal cycles, framed by two orchestral pieces. It opens
with Rodolfo Halffter's Suite para Orquesta Op.1
, and what a delightful
Op.1 it is! The music is light, refined, exquisitely orchestrated - I loved the
touches of the piano. It brings to mind de Falla, Stravinsky, and - unexpectedly
- Scarlatti. It is unmistakably Spanish. The four parts of the suite are consistent
in style and leave a pleasant aftertaste, like Ravel or Poulenc at their merriest.
The song-cycle Marinero en Tierra
, setting poems of Rafael Alberti, was
orchestrated by José Ramón Encinar. The orchestration is stylish
and inventive, in the same league as Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne
poems are very musical by themselves, with rhythmic phrasing. The composer treats
them carefully, trying not the break this internal music, but to enhance it.
Rodolfo's younger brother Ernesto carries us from Spain to Portugal, and we immediately
enter the wonderful world of fado in the first of Canciones Portuguesas
The second song has distinctive Sephardic Jewish roots, and the last two are
cheery and playful dances. The orchestration is very different from that of Rodolfo's
cycle: it is more lyrical, transparent, without the buzz and the fuss. The four
songs are instantly memorable: probably, the best melodies on this disc are found
Julián Bautista wrote his Three Cities
as a homage to his friend
Federico García Lorca, after the poet was killed in 1936. The feelings
of tragedy and loss permeate the score, and Andalusian music runs in its veins,
as if trying to preserve part of the soul of the great poet from Andalusia. Death
starts the first song, which is somber and warm at the same time. Here Death
and Love go hand in hand, as they do so often in Lorca's poems. If Mahler had
been Spanish, he could have written something like this. Barrio de Córdoba
. The tears are quiet, the sighs are soft, but grief
sinks to the heart. The last song, Baile
, is ecstatic and life-asserting
- although the words still suggest the joy of a heart in search of a thorn. The
melodic leaps are wide and bold, the orchestration is powerful, and the cycle
ends in fireworks of flamenco flame. The poet's spirit lives!
The closing work, and the longest one, is Bautista's Sinfonía breve
It starts with an agitated Allegro
, organized and distressed at the same
time, of the "I'm late!" kind. The strings give no rest, whipping and
shouting commands. It brings to mind Shostakovich - although, while the Soviet
composer would be deeply miserable after being whipped around like this, Bautista
sounds pleased, even enthusiastic, as if after a good workout. The second movement
is both disturbing and soothing. Quiet steps are touched in by the strings. Vulnerable
tremolos surround the intertwining lines of soloing instruments, which change
from woodwinds to strings to brass. The music rises like the sea - and gradually
subsides, calm but ominous. The finale is cheerful, yet retains a lot of tension.
The gestures are angular, the freedom is restrained. Quite the opposite of the
first movement, we see a smile on the face, but it's a grimace; the eyes are
unsmiling. There is some Shostakovich here again, but the misty mysticism of
the second movement and the grim joy of the third also remind one of Vaughan
Williams, especially his Sixth Symphony. As a whole, this is a very valuable
symphony, with rich counterpoint and masterful orchestration.
The Extremadura Symphony Orchestra does a great job. The ensemble is very good.
Rhythmic and dynamic precision are perfect, the soloing instruments are strong
yet sensitive. Jesús Amigo leads energetic, dense interpretations, which
deserve to become definitive for these attractive works. My greatest praise goes
to Lola Casariego. It is hard to describe how well her voice matches the three
vocal works. It is powerful, and she controls this force, never pressing too
hard, yet going at full flood when necessary. The voice is sensitive, and we
hear the most delicate way with word-painting, notes, intonation and dynamic.
She applies the spirit of fado in Ernesto Halffter's songs, and of flamenco in
those of Bautista. She does this as if she were a born fado or flamenco singer.
In the end, hers is simply a beautiful voice; it has weight over a wide range
and the "light smoke" quality of Oolong tea. In brief, I am not just
impressed - I am imprinted on this recording.
Spanish composers of the Twenties and Thirties may be less well known than, for
example, British composers of the same generation. The present album, made with
such devotion, presents to us glorious music, masterfully performed. Some of
the pieces are real gems, but the album as a whole communicates as one major
artwork - a unified triptych - yet with a shadow.