DE FALLA Noches en los jardines Espana. El sombrero de tres picos
The Suisse Romande Orchestra (OSR) famously recorded El sombrero de tres picos and the Interlude and Dance from La vida breve with Ernest Ansermet (who conducted El sombrero’s premiere) in 1961, considered a classic version in its day, though opinions have differed about it since. As with his previous Roussel/Debussy disc (A/16), Kazuki Yamada, the OSR’s current principal guest conductor, is consequently revisiting the orchestra’s defining repertory to some extent in this issue, which preserves the original coupling but now adds Noches en los jardines de España and the familiar extract from El Amor brujo into the mix. The pairing of El sombrero with Noches also effectively throws down a challenge to Juanjo Mena’s Falla disc in Chandos’s Música de España series.
As one might expect, the OSR perform both works with great refinement and play with virtuoso understatement throughout. Yamada’s nuanced approach suits Noches uncommonly well. Falla’s fine-grained shifts in colour and sonority are immaculately judged, textures clean yet sensual. The influence of early Stravinsky, Firebird in particular, is well to the fore in the string tremolandos at the start: later, the Debussian brass and woodwind phrases unfurl with exquisite finesse. Pianist Mari Kodama judiciously combines delicacy with weight, compelling attention without quite attaining Alicia de Larrocha’s poetic lyricism (with Frühbeck de Burgos and the LPO on Decca) or the darker, grander fire of Javier Perianes in his fine performance with the BBC Symphony and Josep Pons for Harmonia Mundi.
Many of the same qualities are discernible in El sombrero, though they serve the work less well. Sensuality tips into ribaldry in the ballet’s narrative and there are moments when Yamada’s refinement renders things on occasion too genteel. The Corregidor’s music, all 18th-century pastiche and impertinent bassoon solos, is nicely done. But rhythmic definition slips a bit in the Miller’s all-important Farruca, which needs more aggression and sexuality than it gets here. Given that Yamada builds steadily through the Second Act towards genuine elation in the final Jota, one wonders if the underemphasis is deliberate; but it doesn’t quite work, if so. Mena’s performance has an altogether sharper dramatic focus, though his comparatively detached way with Noches – Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is his coolly lucid soloist – may not be to everyone’s taste. Mena’s choice of the rarely played Homenajes as the filler just tips the balance in the Chandos disc’s favour, however. On the Pentatone disc, the Vida breve extracts could do with a bit more turmoil and élan, though the ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ is splendid in its sinister relentlessness and uneasy sense of wonder.