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Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
El amor brujo (‘Love, the Magician’) (original version, 1915) [40:22]
El retablo de Maese Pedro (‘Master Peter’s Puppet Show’) (1923) [21:23]
Esperanza Fernández (cantaora) (El amor brujo)
Alfredo García (baritone); Jennifer Zetlan (soprano); Jorge Garza (tenor) (El retablo)
Perspectives Ensemble/Angel Gil-Ordóñez
rec. 2018, Greenville Community Church, Scarsdale, USA
Texts and English translations included
NAXOS 8.573890 [62:02]

This CD is part of Naxos’s Spanish Classics series and contains two of Manuel de Falla’s absolute masterpieces. If you know El amor brujo from the standard, orchestral version, such as Dutoit’s or that of Frühbeck de Burgos that eliminate most of the vocal parts, this new one will come as quite a revelation and maybe even a shock. The recording by the New York-based Perspectives Ensemble employs a 1986 reconstruction of the 1915 original score for 15 instruments and narrator/singer (cantaora) that is more of a theatre piece than the familiar orchestral version. It is likewise nearly double the length of the later version. The narrator tells the sad tale of her many attempts to exorcise the evil spirit of her deceitful lover, which gives the work a whole other dimension from the shorter, orchestral version.

This is not the only disc with the original scoring. One of the others, that by Ginesa Ortega and Orquestra de Cambra Teatre Lliure under Josep Pons, is also coupled with El retablo de Maese Pedro (Harmonia Mundi). In any event, the performance under review is a killer! Of those I’ve heard, none are as gutsy as this Naxos account. Cantaora Esperanza Fernández has the raw, folk-singer voice that really cuts as she spits out the narration and songs. The close recording also makes for an increased presence, leaving no word or note hidden. This is a primary-coloured and vivid account unlike the more subdued, quasi-impressionistic ones of the orchestral version that have more in common with Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain. I would not want to be without either version, as there are wonderful orchestral passages which are omitted here. The instrumentalists themselves are excellent, especially flutist Sato Moughalian who is also Artistic Director of this endeavour.

El retablo de Maese Pedro represents the other side of Falla, like the Harpsichord Concerto from the same period. This is the neo-classical composer who was influenced by Stravinsky, but who maintained his originality. El retablo de Maese Pedro, a delightful mini-opera, if you can call it that, ideally needs to be seen as a puppet show. It is based on a scene from Cervantes’ Don Quixote where the hero and Sancho Panza are at a rustic inn before Master Peter’s puppet stage. As is typical of Quixote, the Knight Errant extols the virtues of chivalry and his imaginary conquests after destroying the puppet theatre and bringing the show to a halt, only to be exposed by the puppeteer.

The orchestration, including harpsichord and featuring the winds and brass along with a healthy dose of percussion, pays tribute to an earlier era. After a vivid and exotic-sounding introduction, “the Proclamation,” with an announcement by Master Peter—superbly rendered by tenor Jorge Garza—comes “Master Peter’s Symphony.” The orchestral music would seem to recall Stravinsky’s Danses concertantes more than a little in its lively rhythms and instrumentation, except that the Russian composed his work in the early 1940s, twenty years after Falla’s. Master Peter and Don Quixote, the latter well portrayed by baritone Alfredo García, have significant parts in the opera, but the narrator has the lion’s share of solo work in the form of recitatives many times sung on one or two notes. Often performed by a boy, as in the Pons account, the part is convincingly taken here by soprano Jennifer Zetlan who is fully up to the challenges of the role. As in El amor brujo, the instrumentalists, who are all listed in the CD booklet, excel here and the close recording allows one to fully appreciate the subtleties of the score.

Adding to the attraction of the performances are informative notes by Artistic Director Moughalian and complete texts with English translation. If you are native Spanish, I am quite sure you wouldn’t need the texts, the singers’ diction being extraordinarily clear. For the rest of us they are invaluable. While there are other choices available for these works, I know of none better than this Naxos recording and so heartily recommend it.

Leslie Wright

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