This fascinating disc finds Javier Perianes and flamenco singer Estrella Morente shedding new light on the influence of Spanish folksong on both Falla’s music and Lorca’s poetry. We’re so used to hearing classically trained sopranos or mezzos such as Victoria de los Angeles, Teresa Berganza or Shirley Verrett performing the vocal numbers from El Amor brujo that we easily forget that Falla insisted they be performed by a folk singer. We’ve similarly lost sight of the fact that Lorca trained as a composer before turning to poetry, collected and arranged folk music for most of his life and in 1931 recorded his own Canciones españolas antiguas with the flamenco diva La Argentinita, whom Morente acknowledges as a major influence on her work.
Perianes consequently gives us the El Amor brujo piano suite, to which the vocal ‘Cancíon del fuego fatuo’ has been added, before accompanying Morente in Lorca’s collection, and both performances are utterly mesmerising. Perianes plays El Amor brujo with an impeccable combination of sensuality and percussive weight. The Debussian elements, controversial in Falla’s lifetime, are very much to the fore, sharpening the contrast between classical refinement and the earthiness of Morente’s singing. This is a remarkable voice – raspy, sexy, lived-in, knowing – and it’s hard to imagine Lorca’s songs bettered, as she takes us into the world of narrative, emotion and archetype that informs his poetry, as desire and ritual collide, toreadors are loved, lost and mourned, and vitality and death jostle for supremacy.
The disc opens less successfully, however, with Falla’s Siete Canciones populares españolas, which share some of their material with Lorca’s collection. The compositional process here effectively reverses that of El Amor brujo, turning an operatic diva into a flamenco singer rather than anchoring a folk musician in a classical score: Falla himself recorded them with Maria Barrientos, admired in her day as Zerbinetta and Stravinsky’s Nightingale. Morente certainly throws herself into them with formidable commitment. The cries of ‘Ay’ in the ‘Polo’ sound wrenched from her and rightly disturbing. But even using a low transposition, the ‘Jota’ lies fractionally too high, and ‘Nana’ doesn’t float as easily as it should. Even so, it’s a remarkable disc, and essential listening if you care for El Amor brujo or Lorca’s work.