Falla Nights in the Gardens; El sombrero de tres picos
As Chandos’s informative and evocative notes tell us, we have Grieg (an unlikely source, though, like Falla, a devoted nationalist) to thank for Falla’s choice of career. Enchanted by Grieg’s music, he went on to become the most celebrated of all Spanish composers. And here, in this outstanding issue of works for stage and concert hall, there is a celebration of a major part of a slim but profoundly distinguished output.
Most notable is the performance of The Three-cornered Hat, which evolved from a mimed farce into a ballet of earthy and brilliant appeal, a far cry from clichéd picture-postcard Spain. And it is greatly to the credit of Juanjo Mena and his forces (with a truly authentic touch from soprano Raquel Lojendio) that such a potent atmosphere is achieved. Falla’s beloved folk elements (idealised rather than actual) are given with a concentrated musicianship where energy and refinement blend in ideal proportions. Again, you sense, particularly in the final and enthralling jota, that true excitement comes not from a generalised free-for-all but from the finest focus and discipline.
Homenajes, a late work, takes us into another, elegiac world, with posthumous tributes to key influences. Falla had after all studied in Paris, and listening to ‘à Claude Debussy’ in particular, you recall Falla’s awe when listening to the former’s ‘La soirée dans Grenade’, music that prompted him to wish he could write music so Spanish in idiom.
Finally to Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Falla’s concert-hall masterpiece, where the orchestra are joined by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, intent on close musical integration rather than spotlit brio. Suppressing the more effervescent and Gallic side of his nature, his performance is more subdued than from celebrated champions of this score (Rubinstein, Curzon, de Larrocha and, most recently, Argerich), yet it casts its own spell, sultry and scintillating as required. Chandos’s sound is of exceptional clarity and finesse.