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Canciones en la Alhambra
Joaquin TURINA (1882-1949)
Eight Vocalisations Op 74 (1932) [10.57]
Angel BARRIOS (1882-1964)
Hechinzo y nostalgia [3.45]
Sin estrella y sin cielo [2.32]
La novia del aire – bolero andaluza [3.11]
Mañana de luz y fuego [3.62]
Noche [3.03]
Con puñales de cariño [2.57]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Bolero [4.18]
Leo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Les Filles du Cadix ]4.05]
Manuel LOPEZ-QUIROGA (1899-1998)
No te mires en el rio [4.25]
Y sin embargo te quiero [6.00]
Te lo juro yo [4.05]
Tatuaje [7.08]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera [3.45]
Juan SOLANO (1921-1992)
Un rojo, rojo clavel [3.39]
Carmelo LARREA (1907-1980)
Camino verde [4.04]
Tomás BARRERA and Rafael CALLEJA
Dios Granada [4.41]
Mariola Cantarero (soprano)
Rubén Fernández Aguirre (piano)
rec. live, La Alhambra: Patio de los Arrayanes, Festival Internacional de Musica y Danza de Granada, 24 June 2014
IBS CLASSICAL GOLD 62014 [77:42]

There are a few things in life that I cannot resist. One is a lovely Spanish soprano and another is the Alhambra Palace and Andalucía in general. This disc brings them together in a gorgeously presented cardboard casing with rich colour photos of the Alhambra Palace and gardens and the performers. It's a live concert vividly captured.

If you haven’t yet visited the Alhambra on the hill above Granada then you must. It is vivid in colour, history and smells. Until the day you do go look out for Washington Irving’s ‘Tales from the Alhambra’. On arrival he writes “We found ourselves in a deep ravine, filled with beautiful groves, with a step avenue and various footpaths winding through it, bordered by stone seats and ornamented with fountains”. Failing that, you could listen to this intoxicating CD.

The acoustic for concerts around the central pool - the ‘Patio del los Arrayanes’ or Court of the Myrtles - with a backdrop of mosaics and medieval Arabic horseshoe arches is perfect. I recall attending a violin recital there a few years ago. It is however expensive as there are not a huge number of seats. The audience clap and call often quite enthusiastically at the end of works but their presence is inaudible otherwise. There is just enough applause to conjure the feeling of a heady atmosphere on a gentle June evening; all this amidst the calls of various birds including the occasional nightingale. The sunlit enchantment of the gardens seeming to shimmer as the sun drifts slowly below the Alhambra hill.

Often in Spain, the Spanish singer will mostly perform songs from their own country or/and from France. In England, English songs tend to be tagged on the end after German lieder or whatever. So here we have a repertoire which could well be largely unknown to you. How many of you have come across the dramatic and characterful Vocalisations of Turina? No exercises these but songs that don’t happen to have a text. How many of you know anything about Angel Barrios or Manuel Lopez-Quiroga and Juan Solano?

In fact the five songs by Angel Barrios seem to sum up the dark romanticism of the Alhambra. According to the notes he was born and lived in the Alhambra and there is a museum to his life and work nearby. The songs are deeply Andalucían the last being a seguidilla. They are not a cycle but work well as a group.

One of the big questions which many people ask is: has the singer a big vibrato; if so many are put off. The answer is ‘no’ and ‘yes’. No, because all of Mariola Canterero’s intonation is clear and sensitive. Yes, because all singers must have a vibrato but must control it and vary its use dependent on the demands of music and text. This Cantarero does supremely well. Take for example the outstanding performance of Ravel’s Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera. Unlike Turina, this is instrumental writing for the voice and technically demanding with portamenti, staccato phrasing, trills and scalic passages zipping between the richness of the lower register and the delicacy of the highest.

In this repertoire singers must do more than project their voices. In Solano’s Un rojo, rojo clavel, an encore number, she is required to click heels and fingers and project the song across the audience space. Gounod writes a Bolero, another Spanish dance. Again much characterisation is required and Cantarero is able to demonstrate her vocal versatility. Ironically this was originally composed in England, in English but later given a French text.

The nineteenth century French composers - and writers for that matter - became quite obsessed with Spain especially Léo Delibes as in his famous Les Filles du Cadix which incidentally pre-dates Carmen. This song requires the singer to play castanets -  not easy even when not singing.

With the four songs by the long-lived López-Quiroga and the last encore items by Solano and Barrera, one is reminded how far distant Spanish music can be from the rest of Europe. These songs from the mid-20th century spring out of the Zarzuela tradition of music-theatre and are truly nationalistic. Indeed Adios Granada, Granada Mia by Barrera and Calleja comes from a 1905 zarzuela. It is deeply passionate and Andalucian being based on a fandango rhythm as well as being full of gypsy-style melisma.

In all this I must not forget the sensitive support and stylistic grasp demonstrated so superbly by pianist Rubén Fernández Aguirre who is the preferred accompanist of many of Spain’s leading singers.

But my often encountered bête noir must be mentioned. We have an excellent, if somewhat romantic booklet essay by Francisco J. Gimenéz in which each song is gone into in some detail. Regrettably we are only offered texts in Spanish when to appreciate fully the deeper meaning of the songs a translation is vital.

The recording is vibrant and mostly well balanced, strongly capturing the atmosphere of the occasion.

Gary Higginson