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Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Fanfare pour une fête (Fanfare for a feast) (1921) [0.37]
El amor brujo (Love, the Magician) (edition based on 1925 version) [25.03]
El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) Suites Nos 1 & 2 from the ballet, (1919, suites 1921) [26.50]
Esperanza Fernández (mezzo-soprano)
Orchestre national d'Île-de-France/Enrique Mazzola
rec. 2015, Maison de l'Orchestre national d'Île-de-France, Alfortville, France

Following their debut album which was devoted to Bel canto opera overtures (review) Enrique Mazzola and the Orchestre national d'Île-de-France now turn their attention to the ballets El amor brujo and El sombrero de tres picos by Manuel de Falla, a central figure in twentieth century Spanish music. Cádiz-born, Falla was drawn to the stage, writing over a dozen scores including six zarzuelas, ballets and operas notably La vida breve.

Commissioned in 1914 as a gitanería (gypsy piece) by Pastora Imperio, a renowned gypsy flamenco dancer, El amor brujo (Love, the Magician) is distinctively Andalusian in character with episodes of remarkable beauty and brilliant originality. Integrating spoken dialogue and a part for cantaora (a traditional flamenco singer/dancer) the text by G. Martinez Sierra, after a story by D. Pedro Antonio de Alarcon, relates the story of a dancer, Candela, who is haunted by the ghost of her former lover. Unsuccessfully premièred at Madrid in 1915, in the next year Falla revised the score by reducing its length, expanding the orchestration and arranging the spoken sections for a mezzo-soprano voice. In 1925 Falla reworked the score into a new one-act ballet allocating the sung part to orchestral soloists. Available in various arrangements the popular section Danza Ritual Del Fuego (Ritual Fire Dance) is often performed as a stand-alone piece. Enrique Mazzola has chosen to record here the 1925 version (based on an edition by Yvan Nommick at Chester Music) with the voice reinstated in four of the sections. Captivatingly sung with dark, smoky tones by Esperanza Fernández in the mezzo-soprano role of Candela, the music is convincingly imbued with an enchanting atmosphere of the flamenco.

A prestigious piece commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev, the two-act ballet El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) has a conspicuously Spanish setting. Premièred in 1919 in London, the ballet was choreographed by Léonide Massine employing modified Spanish dance techniques rather than classical ballet, with sets and costumes designed by Pablo Picasso. In 1921 two ballet suites were drawn from the score, which Enrique Mazzola has recorded here. Highly popular is the brilliantly scored second suite that contains three of the four dances that are directly based on traditional Spanish folk rhythms.

Also recorded on the album is a very short work lasting thirty-seven seconds the Fanfare pour une fête (Fanfare for a feast). It was English music critic and composer Leigh Henry who in 1921 commissioned Falla to write a fanfare to be integrated into Fanfare: A Musical Causerie, a music periodical Henry had recently founded in London. The score is a novelty but in truth doesn’t amount to much. Owing to the time left available on the release I would have preferred something much more substantial from Falla.

Under Enrique Mazzola there is magnificent playing by Orchestre national d'Île-de-France, shimmering convincingly with the brilliant, heady colours of Spain. Mazzola adopts fairly brisk speeds drawing invigorating playing that is light and vibrant. Noteworthy are the delicious woodwind solos and the first-rate intonation from the glowing strings. Recorded at Maison de l'Orchestre national d'Île-de-France at Alfortville, the pleasingly clear and well balanced sound quality adds to the appeal of the release. In the booklet there is a note from conductor Mazzola, a readable essay written by Corinne Schneider and (I am pleased to report) sung texts with English translations.

Brilliantly played, this is an impressive release featuring two of de Falla’s finest works.

Michael Cookson



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