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Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
La Vida Breve (1904-1905, rev. 1907-1913) [62.08]
Nancy Fabiola Herrera (mezzo-soprano)
La Abuela (mezzo-soprano)
Aquiles Machado (tenor)
José Antonio López (baritone)
Raquel Lojendio (soprano)
Josep Miquel Ramón (baritone)
Segundo Falcón (flamenco)
Gustavo Peña (tenor)
Vicente Coves (guitar)
RTVE Symphony Chorus
BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena
rec. MediaCity UK, Salford, UK, 2018
CHANDOS CHAN 20032 [62:08]

This is a valuable recording as it provides a fascinating alternative to the now legendary Rafael Frübeck de Burgos/ Victoria de los Angeles recording (Warner Classics 5675872), without, in any sense, replacing it. It also marks the end of Juanjo Mena’s spell as Principal Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic.

A characteristic of Mena’s musical approach is a strongly lyrical, poetic style. He has a gift for bringing out the gentler aspects of any piece he conducts. That is very much the case here, in a profoundly beautiful, even devout, performance of this classic of Spanish music. This beauty of sound is matched in a characteristically warm Chandos recording, admirable suited to a performance such as this. Throughout one is conscious of the love thrown over the whole work, as well as the meticulous preparation of all involved. A great deal of thought has gone into the recording, with all-Spanish forces, apart from the ever-admirable BBC Philharmonic. The RTVE Symphony Chorus obviously flew to Manchester for the occasion. This opera, despite its brevity, depends very much on the quality of the chorus, and the authenticity pays dividends.

But, of course, the older recording also has all-Spanish forces, and the bonus of Victoria de los Angeles, who loved the opera and, for the 1965 recording, took care to practice the appropriate regional accent. It is perhaps unfair to compare the excellent Nancy Fabiola Herrera with one of the greatest singers of the last century. Her voice is pleasing and she is most sensitive to the nuances of the text. The other singers are very fine also, with some moments of immense beauty, as in the ¡Paco!¡Paco! ¡Siempre juntos! in Act I. The sense of commitment is palpable.

I am very glad to have heard this recording. It is in no sense an attempt to ape the older version but rather a genuine alternative interpretation, bringing out other aspects of the score. If my first love remains the classic recording for its dramatic intensity and sense of the darker aspects of this ultimately sad tale, that is not to deny the possibilities offered by this poetic and moving alternative vision, and not just for its superior sound. In an ideal world, one would want both – great music encompasses a wealth of possible interpretations.

Michael Wilkinson
Previous review: Simon Thompson

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