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Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
When the fire burns
A documentary by Larry Weinstein [82.00]
Excerpts from
La Vida Breve
Gabriel Moreno (singer), Carmelo Martinez (guitar)*
Serenata Andaluza
Nicanor Zabaleta (harp)
Four Spanish Pieces: Aragonesa: Cubana
Manuel da Falla (piano roll)
Seven Spanish Folksongs: Polo: Nana
Teresa Berganza (mezzo), Juan Antonio Alvarez Perejo (piano)
El amor brujo
Ginesa Ortega (mezzo)*
The Three Cornered Hat: Neighbours' Dance
Alicia da Larrocha (piano)
Master Peter's puppet show
Justino Diaz (baritone), Juan Cabero (tenor), Xavier Cabero (treble)*
Harpsichord Concerto: Lento
Lluis Vidal (harpsichord), Teatro Lliure Chamber Orchestra, Josep Pons (conductor)
Homage to Paul Dukas
Joaquin Nin-Culmell (piano)
Atlantida: Prologue: The Supreme Night*
*with Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Charles Dutoit
Full performance
Nights in the gardens of Spain [25.00]
Alicia da Larrocha (piano), Montreal Symphony Orchestra/Charles Dutoit
rec. no information provided
EUROARTS DVD 2061108 [107.00]

It is difficult to think of a major composer - and he was a major composer - whose output is as small as that of Manuel da Falla. There is only one full-scale orchestral work, Nights in the gardens of Spain, which is here provided as a bonus at the end of the documentary; apart from that there are four stage works comprising two ballets and two operas, none of which lasts more than an hour, and a small portfolio of songs, piano music and chamber works including a harpsichord concerto. His only work which might have occupied a full evening would have been the sprawling cantata Atlantida, which was left as an incomplete torso at the time of the composer's death in Argentinean exile. But at the very least evidence of Falla's genius can be clearly demonstrated by his opera La vida breve, which rises above a pretty disastrous plot to reveal a stunning sense of atmosphere and a series of original touches which transform the lame-backed scenario into something pretty close to a masterpiece.

The documentary here focuses to a large degree on the events of Falla's life, with an emphasis on his early career and influences. It does not provide much in the way of an explanation for the reasons why Falla felt his life to be so threatened that he left for Argentina following Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War - he did not have the high political profile of contemporary figures such as Lorca - but it does emphasise the ill-health from which Falla suffered throughout his career, and it takes the opportunity to present some of his major works in performances spearheaded by Charles Dutoit and his Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Only some works, mind you. Although Dutoit has provided us with one of the best recorded performances of the ballet The three-cornered hat, there is nothing from that score here except a brief section of the Neighbours' Dance played in a piano transcription. And the performance here of El amor brujo, so well recorded by Dutoit on his Decca CD, is ruined by a mezzo-soprano whose credentials as an authentic gypsy girl are vitiated by a raucous delivery and unsteadiness of tone which is a long way from the cultivated manner which the remainder of the score demands - comparison with Huguette Tourangeau on Dutoit's audio recording shows just how much we miss in subtlety here.

That aside, the remainder of the performances are very good indeed, and one might wish that the version of Master Peter's puppet show we hear on this documentary could be made available in its own right. Alicia da Larrocha, who plays Nights in the gardens of Spain, is of course incomparable in this music; and the images of the gardens which Falla describes, seen in full on the accompanying performance, add a sense of richness and atmosphere to the music even when some individual sequences of pictures come around rather too often. Sections of the performance are incorporated into the documentary. Larry Weinstein is to be commended too for allowing us to hear substantial sections of music without intrusive 'voice-over', and the balletic staging of El amor brujo has just the right sense of abandon which enhances rather than detracts from the score. There are also some real gems among the smaller items, such as Zabaleta performing a harp transcription of the Serenata Andaluza and a film of Joaquin Nin-Culmell who actually gave the first performance of the Homage to Paul Dukas.

There is also a three-page booklet note which oddly enough seems to take a more sometimes more critical view of Falla than the generally sympathetic documentary. This anonymous note even attempts to portray Falla's period in Argentina not as exile but simply as a response to a request for a concert engagement, although the writer does not explain why Falla then prolonged his stay in South America not only throughout the Second World War but beyond it. The films date from 1991 and, as with the film of Nin-Culmell, now have a documentary status in their own right.

Paul Corfield Godfrey


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