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Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
El Sombrero de tres picos (1919) [38.19]
Noches en los jardines de España (1915) [22.14]
Homenajes (1938-39) [15.46]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano); Raquel Lojendio (soprano)
BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena
rec. Media City UK, Salford, 18-19 June, 28 September 2011
CHANDOS CHAN 10694 [76.40]

Experience Classicsonline

This is a superb recording of some of Falla’s best known works for stage and concert hall. In the opening recording of El Sombrero de tres picos Mena and the BBC Philharmonic are joined by the Spanish soprano, Raquel Lojendio. The redoubtable Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, who has recently made a distinguished series of Debussy and Haydn recordings, joins them for Nights in the Gardens of Spain.
El Sombrero de tres picos or The Three Cornered Hat was originally commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes. The ballet had an auspicious debut: Falla was fortunate to have Massine choreographing the production and Picasso lending his visionary genius for the sets and costumes. The storyline revolves around jealousy, mistaken identity and deception involving a miller, his wife and a magistrate. Ansermet and de Burgos have both left celebrated recordings of the work.
Mena and the BBC Philharmonic bring a rich palette of orchestral colours to this great work which moves from driving rhythms in timpani and brass in the introduction to vibrant storytelling, onomatopoeia and lyrical refinement in the opening section of Act 1. Lojendio delivers her short solo with a suppressed burning passion amid hand-clapping and castanets. The subsequent fandango and finale to Act 1 are played with zest and energy; Mena and his orchestra clearly enjoy Falla’s grand theatrical gestures.
The Seguidilla which opens Act 2 is played with charm and grace while the brass and woodwind delineate the flamenco figurations in a highly idiomatic way in The Miller’s Dance. The players are responsive to the multiple changes of mood and rhythm in the subsequent interludes and bring out the fantastical elements, while Lojendio sings her short pastoral solo with real delicacy and taste. The Magistrate’s Dance is full of whimsy and irony with the woodwind and strings highlighting the playful elements. In the final Jota, the BBC Phil clearly relish being let off the leash and bring the orchestra’s full power orchestra to bear with constantly shifting dynamics, rhythms and textures.
Nights in the Gardens of Spain was originally conceived as a series of nocturnes for piano solo. Falla decided to re-work it for piano and orchestra at the suggestion of Ricardo Viñes to whom the work is dedicated. It is not a concerto in the conventional sense but involves pianist and orchestra collaborating to create a series of atmospheric garden tone poems. A number of distinguished pianists have left great recordings including Rubinstein, de Larrocha and Argerich.
The first movement is a picture of the Generalife, the famous summer palace of the Alhambra with its spectacular Moorish gardens and jasmine scents. Bavouzet deploys a nicely judged playing spectrum to the intricate piano figurations and is perfectly integrated with his orchestral partners. The climaxes are heady and bathed in a warm sensuality with pianist and orchestra seemingly soaring as one on the crest of a wave. The second movement entitled Distant Dance does not depict an actual garden. It uses exotic Moorish dance figurations. Bavouzet brings rhythmic subtlety to this intricate music and some of the dialogue between pianist and orchestra is outstanding. The final movement depicts a lively dance in the Gardens of the Sierra de Cordoba. Bavouzet’s shaping of the idiomatic gypsy phrases is superb. His playing encompasses a range of tone and touch to underscore the brilliant nature of the piano writing. I am not sure if this recording displaces de Larrocha’s great recordings of the work but it is superlative playing nevertheless.
The disc concludes with Homenajes or Tributes which is a much later and lesser known sequence. It has an elegiac quality as it pays posthumous tribute to great composers and musicians who influenced Falla. They include Debussy, Dukas and Falla’s great mentor and friend Felipe Pedrell. The opening fanfare was delivered with gusto while Mena elicits a wide variety of sonorities from the BBC Philharmonic in the subsequent portrait of Debussy. The portrait of Dukas has a heaviness and introspective quality with the orchestral players leaning into some of the phrases. The final portrait of Pedrell is played with real warmth and charm. Orchestra and conductor respond to Falla’s obvious affection for his mentor. Outstanding playing.
Robert Beattie

See also review by Leslie Wright



















































































































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