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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

Tomás BRETÓN (1850-1923)
Escenas andaluzas (1894) [26:08]; “Guzmán el bueno” – Prelude (1876) [7:21]; “La Dolores” – Prelude (1895) [4:02]; “Garin” – Prelude and Sardana (1892) [8:13]; “Los Amantes de Teruel” – Prelude (1889) [10:30]; En la Alhambra (1888) [7:43]
Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid/Miguel Roa
rec. Rehearsal Hall of the Orchestra and Chorus of the Comunidad de Madrid, March 2004 and September 2005
NAXOS 8.572076 [64:14]


Experience Classicsonline

It is hard not to feel some sympathy with composers whose output is largely forgotten apart from a single work; even more so with those whose output is wholly forgotten. It is therefore very welcome that even in these straitened times Naxos continues to issue recordings of the lesser known works of such composers.

I have listened recently with great pleasure to their issue of the Symphony by Ruperto Chapí, Bretón’s great rival – they shared the composition prize at the Madrid Conservatory in 1872. It is appropriate that they should now provide an opportunity for us to compare it with the orchestral music of Bretón. 

Bretón is best known for a single work – the one Act zarzuela “La Verbena de la Paloma” of 1894. Christopher Webber in “The Zarzuela Companion” describes it as perhaps the greatest zarzuela of all. I therefore approached the present disc with considerable interest. I was not disappointed. The first item – the “Escenas Andaluzas” (Andalusian Scenes) – is described as popular, although I must admit to not having heard it before, and previous recordings are not thick on the ground. It is a suite in four movements – Bolero, Polo, Marcha y saeta and Zapateado. Each is full of colour and the kind of rhythms and textures that non-Spaniards at least associate with Spain. It is in every way comparable to similar music by Massenet, Bizet and others. Indeed it is arguable that their works sound – again, to a non-Spaniard – more likely to have originated in the country. At times the orchestration and working out here has a heavier feel to it, although not to the music’s detriment. The movements are all varied and colourful, and it would be good to have the chance of hearing it in the concert hall one day. In the meantime this well recorded and idiomatically played disc is very welcome. The symphonic serenade En la Alhambra is similar in character and also well worth hearing. 

The Preludes to four of Bretón’s operas are all interesting and pleasurable works, even if what we hear does not seem to bear much relation to the descriptions in the otherwise helpful notes by Victor Sánchez Sánchez. The opera “Garin”, for instance, apparently has a story very similar to that of Tannhäuser, and “Los Amantes de Terurel” concerns a tragic love story and is said to have a Prelude summarizing the musical tensions of that story. The mixture of styles, from the kind of dramatic gesture we might associate with, say, Litolff, Lortzing or Sullivan, to Spanish-style textures and melodies not dissimilar to those in the Suite, is nonetheless very winning. 

All in all, this is a very attractive disc that will suit anyone with a taste for the more colourful music of this period or a more general interest in the music of Spain. Fortunately we can enjoy the music of both Chapí and Bretón without feeling any need to take sides between them.

John Sheppard


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