MANUEL DE FALLA (1876-1946) Grabaciones Históricas - Historic Recordings  (1923-1976 commercial recordings, radio tapes and live concert hall tapes) Junta de Andalucia - Consejeria de Cultura  Almaviva DS0121 Durations: CD1 [75'25"] CD2 [75'18"] CD3 [65'17"] CD4 [69'15"] 4CDs



The world has become used to sets of CDs and LPs offering collections of historic (and merely historical) recordings of music by composers who lived in the 20th century. CBS/Sony have celebrated Stravinsky in impressive style. Elgar has had numerous EMI and Pearl sets devoted to his own and others performances of his works. Bartok enjoyed a massive LP set of historic recordings collecting together every scrap of his own performances on several massive Hungaroton boxes. Now it is the turn of Manuel de Falla.

I say 'now'. In fact this box came out in 1996 presumably to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Spain's most famous composer of the century. I do not recall seeing the set reviewed anywhere though it may well have been picked up by Fanfare. I was alerted to its existence when I noticed an advert in Gramophone.

Sound quality is what you would expect from a collection spanning so many years. Oddly enough some of the older recordings come over very well while one or two live performance tapes are of disappointing quality. There are no obvious signs of artificial enhancement of the disc sound. Some 'cleaning up' has been done but nothing objectionable. I cannot however claim familiarity with the original 78s!

I suspect that many of these recordings are quite rare - certainly in the USA and UK. CDs 1 and 2 are all from 78s (1923-40). CDs 3 and 4 are from Spanish Radio archive tapes (1975-76).

CD1 1923-42

SERENATA ANDALUZA (1898-9) was written for violin and piano. This 1931 recording has the work arranged (not by de Falla) as a 'concerto for castanets and orchestra'. It is a light music novelty and in this recording the castanets (properly 'castanuelas') are startlingly in the foreground with the orchestra balanced very distantly. From 1900 comes a charming song TUS OJILLOS NEGROS in a 1926 recording by Elvira de Hidalgo. The crumbly and occasionally distorted sound of Leopoldo Querol’s CUATRO PIEZAS ESPANOLAS (1936) and the 1923 FANTASIA BAETICA at the hands of Mark Hambourg yield little pleasure to me. However the SIETE CANCIONES POPULARES ESPANOLAS with the composer at the piano and Maria Barrientos (soprano) are a very special experience: bright-eyed, eager, it is as if the two artists inspiring each other. This was recorded in 1928 and the two artists returned two years later to record Soneto a Cordoba and Cancion del Fuego Fatuo. There is a raw purity in Barrientos’ voice which I find very appealing by contrast with the more operatic voice of Conchita Supervia whose set of the seven songs appears on disc 2.

The HARPSICHORD CONCERTO (rec 1930) is a wispy piece which can appear quite episodic. The composer is at the keyboard partnered by French celebrity soloists including Marcel Moyse (flute). The concerto comes over as a very intense piece particularly during the ominous ‘hammer-blows’ of the central Lento. Neo-classicism with ripeness and exoticism; not at all the desiccated product it was to become in some compositional hands. PSYCHE (rec 1942) ravishingly sung by soprano Leyla Ben Sedyra is an extension of the exotic world of the concerto. Ninon Vallin’s brief account of Danza del Juego del Amor from the end of El Amor Brujo makes you wish the recording (1927) did not stop just before the climactic bell-haunted climactic delirium of the finale.


Two major orchestral works here plus the Seven Spanish Songs (Supervia rec 1928-30). Interestingly the complete Supervia set (marred for me by her wide vibrato) is ‘interrupted’ by other singers’ performances of one of the set: Jota. The other singers are Juan Garcia (rather unfeeling and plummy-voiced), Conchita Badia (tender), Miguel Fleta (dark-hued) and Lucrecia Bori (nasal, commandingly intense, vividly accompanied). EL AMOR BRUJO is given a magical performance by Orquesta Betica de Camara de Sevilla directed by Ernesto Halffter (rec 1930). The gusty-voiced soprano Conchita Velazquez lends the performance a wild elation in the celebrated Danza del Juego del Amor and Final. Pantomima (probably Falla’s most inspired melody and unaccountably recalled during Gosta Nystroem’s Sinfonia del Mare) is played with great sweetness although the boozy-toned violin solo is a blemish which the taste of the time probably saw as a strength. The early recording techniques could not accommodate the full clamour of bells which should dominate the closing pages. Although we catch the ringing of cow-bells a la Mahler they are quite muted. NIGHTS IN THE GARDENS OF SPAIN is one of de Falla’s most enchanted and enchanting works. A sinfonia concertante for piano and orchestra, it is taken by the same forces as the El Amor recording and was taken down in the same year. The pianist is Manuel Navarro. The performance is a good one with many poetic moments but it is not more striking than many modern ones. Particular favourites of mine include Soriano, Rubinstein and (brace yourself) Alexander Iokheles. Iokheles is on an old Melodiya LP reissued on Classics for Pleasure with an equally inspired El Amor Brujo. Recording quality of the Melodiya was very raw but what a performance! The piano sound on the 1930s 78s is papery, robbing the music of much of its essential richness.


Radio Tapes 1956-66 EL RETABLO DE MAESE PEDRO (1923 rec 1966 RTVESO/Ernesto Halffter) is quite a striking work and deserves to be much better known. The 30 minute opera is a counterpart of Holst's Wandering Scholar. The work blends the Moorish exotic (Muezzin calls rather like those in Delius’s pagan Requiem) and a Pulcinella-like neo-classicism. The singing and performance are vivid and here the recording is very clear and bright.

THE THREE CORNERED HAT (Tricorn) is de Falla's world-famous hit: his Enigma, his Planets. The model and some of the musical language is Petrushka but this element is completely overwhelmed by the devastatingly original and coruscating Hispanic brilliance, languor and romance. This performance of suites 1 and 2 (21'20") is by the Orquesta Nacional de Espana conducted by Ataulfo Argenta. While compromised by one of the most distant recordings I have ever strained to hear, the performance is astounding. Argenta captures the subtle changes of pulse, the convulsive power of the wild march, the delicacy and the unbridled Iberian romance of this music. This must have been an extraordinary event with Argenta delivering the music in the style of Mravinsky - incandescent. A pity about the distanced sound - poor microphone placing presumably - however if you turn up the volume you will quickly adjust. It is also a pity that we get only 21'20" of music and that there is distortion on the massive drums at the end of the suite. As it is this is an event (a miracle) we are privileged to listen in to down the years. Just imagine if Argenta had tackled the whole ballet at this concert. The explosion of applause at the end of the suite comes as no surprise. The HOMENAJES (15'30") is four tribute movements in the form of a suite. The tributes are to the musicians Enrique Arbos, Debussy, Paul Dukas and Felipe Pedrell. The suite was assembled and orchestrated from compositions written between 1920 and 1939. The composer's last years were occupied by the massive cantata Atlantida (recorded by EMI in the late 70s). Homenajes seems to have been de Falla's only musical respite from the obsessive work on Atlantida which seems to have become as much of a burden as the eighth symphony became to Sibelius. In any event the muaic of Homenajes is subdued although the first movement has an Elgarian grandeur. This tape comes from the same 1956 concert as the Three Cornered Hat suites. The concert marked the 10th anniversary of the composer's death and was clearly a major event although the fire does not seem to have been in the bones so far as Homenajes is concerned.

CD 4

Radio Tapes 1953-76

Segovia and guitar aficionados will be delighted to have a radio performance of the Master performing de Falla's only work (LE TOMBEAU DE CLAUDE DEBUSSY) written for guitar and later orchestrated and included in the Homenajes suite. The radio tape is of muffled quality but Segovia's delicate and rough artistry shines through. LA VIDA BREVE (1905, rec 1972) is an opera. Here we have a suite for orchestra but with songs from the opera vibrantly sung by Pilar Lorengar. Lorengar's reputation was international and she sang in celebrity operatic productions and in lieder recitals worldwide. Her vibrato is prominent but the raw passion in her voice is patent. The suite is satisfying musically. The choir of RTVE produce a black sound comparable with Finnish choirs in Sibelius Kullervo and Klami's Psalmus. Lastly comes FUEGO FATUO (circa 1916) - a suite of charming though bland dance movements for full orchestra. The suite has no connection with El Amor Brujo despite sharing the title of one of its songs. In fact this is a collection of Chopin piano pieces arranged by De Falla and completed by the conductor Antoni Ros-Marba. The suite is rather conventional. Though charming this not another El Amor Brujo or Tricorn. One for the de Falla completist!


There is an excellent trilingual (Spanish-English-French) booklet running to 50 stylish pages. The English section covers 11 pages. The booklet is made all the more appealing by 22 pictures many from the Archivo Manuel de Falla (Granada) and the Fundacion Manuel de Falla (Madrid). There are pictures of the composer and of the many artists recorded here. Congratulations to author Andres Ruiz Tarazona for a densely informative and readable essay.

The set was produced with sponsorship from the Department of Culture of the Andalucian Government. It is part of a series called The Musical Heritage of Andalucia. I hope someone can find out what else is on offer in this series.

This valuable anthology using performers (almost all of Spanish birth) belongs in the collection of all de Falla enthusiasts, students of Iberian music and libraries/sound archives. There are some remarkable musical experiences here (the Argenta Tricorn for one) but anyone buying must be prepared for sound that is often elderly and at best only respectably good. Playing these recordings reminds us of the privilege we have of hearing the composer as performer and of performances which must have shaped and influenced the composer’s attitude to later works. This is an important ‘Dokumente’ and a source which incidentally yields pungent musical pleasures and plunges us deep into de Falla’s world. Track after track offer riches and contrast. De Falla is terribly underestimated and under-known. It may ring false for me (as a non-Hispanic) to say this but when listening to de Falla’s music you feel in touch with the country of his and other times. This is not thank heavens a composer concerned with presenting folk melodies (songs and dances) in their original shape and form. De Falla melds the community music of Spain (particularly Andalucia) into the universal language of Stravinsky and what emerges is new and fresh and in turn has, across the world, fixed a new image of what Spain and Spanish music is all about. If it has also helped consolidate a hackneyed picture (see Chabrier, Ravel et etc) the blazing vigour and honesty of this music shows that the fault lies not with de Falla.

This set educates and enriches but it is not for the hi-fi enthusiast. For those with open minds and a musical inner ear the artistic high fidelity of most of the performances compensates for the occasional surface noise and audio-technical shortcomings. Recommended.

Notes (1) De Falla’s music is one important window onto the Peninsula (and I do not forget Portugal as a separate distinctive entity) nor the regional/separate state character of the Basques. There are many other ‘windows’ including Halffter, Rodrigo, Gerhard, Toldra, Guridi (a particular favourite) and Sorozabal.

(2) My thanks to the generous contributors to the newsgroup who provided so many comparative insights into the world of classic de Falla recordings.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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