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Manuel da FALLA (1876-1946)
The Three-cornered Hat (1919) [37.40]
El amor brujo (1915) [24.14]
Colette Boky (soprano: Hat)
Huguette Tourangeau (mezzo: Brujo)
Montreal Symphony Orchestra/Charles Dutoit
rec. St Eustache, Montreal, July 1981
DECCA PRESTO CD 410008-2 [61.54]

This was one of the very first CDs ever issued by Decca, and it was provided by their star team of Charles Dutoit at the head of his Montreal Symphony Orchestra. The Three-cornered Hat, Falla’s score written for Diaghilev and his Russian Ballet, had for many years been a staple showpiece for international orchestras. Decca already had a long-established analogue recording in their catalogue featuring Ernest Ansermet and his Suisse Romande players but the Swiss orchestra, always fallible, were no match for Dutoit’s superbly disciplined forces. The digital recording effectively superseded Ansermet as a flagship of the new Decca CD listings. It remains even today, over thirty years later, a formidable achievement and one of the best recordings of the score ever made.

However in their early CDs Decca made one fatal mistake, one that is unfortunately faithfully reproduced in this Presto re-mastering of the original disc. They completely failed to take advantage of one essential difference between LPs and CDs: that while in the older format providing separate tracks for individual sections of a continuous score involved the always risky procedure of placing down a pickup arm directly onto a vinyl surface, and quite possibly scratching it in the process, the movement of a laser over the disc obviated any such possible damage. Accordingly, in a number of their early CDs, no track breaks at all were provided where the music was continuous or semi-continuous. This means that on this disc anyone wanting to hear just The Miller’s Dance from the full-length ballet, or the Fire Dance from El amor brujo, has no choice but to locate the appropriate track and then fast-forward through the music to find the relevant point where they wish to begin listening. There are just three tracks on this CD: two for The Three-cornered Hat, and one for the shorter work.

In their reissues of these early CD recordings, Decca have usually taken the opportunity to insert relevant cues at such points; but anyone purchasing this reissue should be aware that they may not be able with ease to locate a favourite movement. Nor are these individual movements listed with an indication of timing - although full texts and translations are provided. All of this is a pity, because the performances themselves are excellent. Huguette Tourangeau is a full-throated gipsy girl in El amor brujo, much more musically effective than the very ‘ethnic’ Ginesa Ortega who took on the role in a video production also conducted by Dutoit which I reviewed for this site last year. Colette Boky in the longer ballet has less to do, but does that little very well and is properly distanced. The choral shouts of “Olé!” in the introduction to the score are, I presume, supplied by members of the orchestra. The church acoustic may slightly blur the incisiveness of the well-pointed rhythms, but the microphones pick up everything of importance. The playing under Dutoit is simply marvellous, highlighting not just the rhythms but also the impressionist washes of delicate sound that Falla writes in such sections as the Neighbours’ Dance at the beginning of Part Two. The solo bassoon in The Three-cornered Hat is well and characterfully played (and separately credited) by Richard Hoenicht, but he is allowed to make a cut of four bars in Part Two which may or may not have been authorised by the composer; it is made in a number of other recordings.

Of the rival versions in the CD catalogue, Ansermet’s recording of the two scores comes coupled with an additional bonus in the form of the Spanish Dance from La vida breve. Ansermet had conducted the first performance of The Three-cornered Hat, but his recordings – as I have observed – suffered from some fallibility in the playing. A two CD EMI box conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos comes with the complete La vida breve and a number of smaller works (review review), but although the playing is more secure the recordings from the 1960s sound rather dated now. These same Dutoit performances have also been reissued by Decca as part of a 2 CD collection entitled “The essential Falla” (review) which excludes La vida breve but does include Nights in the gardens of Spain, omitted by EMI Classics. There are in all 25 recordings currently listed on Archiv of The Three-cornered Hat, but only two which offer this two-ballet coupling on a single disc. One of these is a real antique with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Edouard van Remoortel, which hardly bears comparison with Dutoit in terms of either sound or playing. The other is a version now available at bargain price on Regis conducted by Eduardo Mata, which I have not heard but was highly regarded in some quarters when originally issued on RCA (review). Nonetheless, and despite the lack of individual tracks, the restoration of this disc to the catalogue from Presto Classical is most welcome.
Paul Corfield Godfrey



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