Falla: Vocal & Orchestral Works
Anyone who has ever visited the unforgettably beautiful Moorish gardens, dominated by fountains, of the Palace built on the hills overlooking Granada, and who is familiar with Manuel de Falla's famous concertante piece must have wondered about hearing the first section (''In the Generalife'') at dusk against that luxuriant backcloth of flowers, trees and cascading water. But of course Nights in the gardens of Spain, although consistently evocative, moves away from the aura of the gardens to evoke a more earthy Andalusian gipsy mood; and in the finale develops a fiery vitality, only returning to the nocturnal serenity of the opening in the apotheosis-like closing pages. It is the spontaneous control of this wide range of colour and atmosphere, together with the music's rhapsodic structure that distinguishes an outstanding performance. Alicia de Larrocha has recently provided a memorable digital recording, in partnership with Raphael Fruhbeck de Burgos for Decca (listed for comparison) but her earlier 1971 version with Sergiu Comissiona, recorded (like Ansermet's coupled ballet) in the Victoria Hall, Geneva, has striking poetry and atmosphere, a natural musical flow and plenty of sparkle in the gipsy music. Fruhbeck de Burgos also conducted the earlier EMI version with Gonzalo Soriano, made a decade earlier in the Salle Wagram, Paris, and that too has much subtlety of colour, plus evocation and brilliance—it is perhaps a shade more extrovert than the Decca.
Batiz has the advantage of the most vividly clear modern digital recording, while the acoustics of St Barnabas's Church, Woodside Park ensure a mellow background ambience. Yet with Brian Culverhouse as producer and engineer, the clarity of inner detail and the tangibility of the piano image is striking; the balance of the solo instrument is rather more like a concerto than with the others. Batiz is a sympathetic exponent of the score (and Aldo Ciccolini a good soloist), but his moulding of phrases is rather more deliberate, and with the emphasis of the recording, the effect is much brighter and more forward, less diffuse. That is not to say that there is a lack of clarity in the other two versions, merely that the colouring presented to the ear is more impressionistic in character. Turning to the couplings, the Decca choice of Ansermet's complete 1962 Three Cornered Hat (plus a bonus from La vida breve) seems the most desirable. Ansermet brings this score vivaciously to life and keeps the Swiss orchestra on their toes in his inimitable fashion: there is drama, witty detail from the woodwind and the Decca engineers ensure that all Falla's colouristic effects project admirably at all dynamic levels. Of course Giulini can turn a Spanish phrase very enticingly and he has the advantage of the Philharmonia at their peak. He offers El amor brujo, plus five of the most famous items from The Three Cornered Hat played with plenty of earthy vitality and finesse too. Victoria de los Angeles is not quite a gipsy peasant, but her singing has great character and charm and is entirely idiomatic. The EMI recording, however, made in the Kingsway Hall in 1957 and 1961, is warm and pleasing but a little restricted, as the famous opening fanfare and drums of The Three Cornered Hat demonstrates. The Kingsway ambience is attractive but the sharpness of focus is rather blunted.
Batiz offers altogether rarer couplings. A la busca del mas alla (''In search of the beyond'') might be thought of as an abstract symphonic poem although it also sounds rather like film music. It is very effectively scored. Zarabanda lejana (''Distant sarabande'') is a two-part piece with a gentle rather beautiful opening section leading to a dance (Villancico) but ending quietly. Turina's Sinfonia sevillana is also permeated with dance measures, although it has a nocturnal central section featuring solos for violin and cor anglais. Batiz is very good in all this music and the orchestral response from the LSO in the Rodrigo and the LPO in the Turina is sympathetic and alive, helped by the fully coloured recorded sound. This is highly agreeable repertoire, quite strong in both melodic and rhythmic appeal, but it must be said that anyone wanting a full-price Nights in the gardens of Spain will find Larrocha's digital Decca recording the most satisfying of all. At mid price my vote would go to her analogue version with Comissiona, at least partly because of the pairing with the Ansermet account of the ballet.'