Victoria de los Angeles - Songs of Spain
Nothing could be more appropriate in celebrating Victoria de los Angeles’s 75th birthday than this extensive conspectus of her recordings of Spanish song over 40 years. It’s hardly possible in a brief review to do justice to such an astonishing achievement on the part of the Spanish soprano; indeed had she sung nothing else her place in recorded history would be assured.
We begin with her 1950 set of traditional songs arranged by Graciano Tarrago, evocative of an era and a style preserved amazingly in various collections. The singer here is not as outgoing or communicative as she was soon to become, perhaps a shade intimidated by this early encounter with the microphone. There is a certain sameness to her approach, but the voice of the young artist, so refulgent, is a delight in itself. The renaissance and baroque pieces that fill the rest of the first disc are another matter. Not only is the music more accessible but de los Angeles performs it with a winning charm. Try just three items and you’ll know what I mean: the translucent beauty of “Ay, luna que reluces”, the Monteverdian eloquence of “Confiado jiguerillo”, all about a linnet, and “El canape”, in which the singer gleefully tells of a couch that has witnessed the petting indulged in by its mistress on its cushions.
The second disc is devoted entirely to medieval and renaissance songs recorded in 1960 and 1967 with the Ars Musicae de Barcelona (an early band of authenticists), gleaned from two LPs, the one devoted to songs of Andalusia, including several haunting Sephardic songs, the other to renaissance pieces of a more advanced kind including several expressing deep feelings by Juan Vasquez, among which “Duelente di mi, Senora” is particularly appealing.
The last two discs bring us to nineteenth- and twentieth-century arrangements of traditional material and original compositions. Among the former, I found Lorca’s set, Canciones populares espanolas, which were new to me, absolutely irresistible both in themselves and as performed by the unflagging Victoria in 1970. These imaginative re-creations, full of sentiment, verve and fun, release every aspect of the singer’s genius – eager, forward tone, vital enunciation of the texts and unfettered joy in the mere act of communication. The remainder of the songs on this CD, all of which featured frequently in the soprano’s recitals, maintain this high standard, including Mompou’s touching “Damunt de tu, nomes les flors”, Montsalvatge’s lullaby for a black baby, with which she always bewitched her audiences, and Rodrigo’s “De los alamos vengo” (which, incidentally, appears in its unadorned form earlier in the set). Then what was perhaps de los Angeles’s signature-tune, Valverde’s “Clavelitos”, not the early 78rpm version but the 1960 stereo remake, and don’t miss Victoria accompanying herself in Granados’s “Adios, Granada”, a sure-fire encore at most of her recitals.
The final CD includes her unrivalled recordings of Granados’s Tonadillas, and his Tres majas dolorosa, suffering love epitomized in music and interpretation, as it is in Salud’s arias from Falla’s La vida breve. Then, from an LP never issued here, dating from a live recital at Hunter College, NY, in 1971 with her close contemporary Alicia de Larrocha at the piano, we have Granados’s Canciones amatorias, another favourite item of the singer’s, and her dark-grained, intense account of Falla’s Seven Spanish Popular Songs, with exuberant, subtly shaped support from Larrocha. Catching the bird on the wing, as it were, adds a further dimension of immediacy to our appreciation of this much loved artist. And we leave her at the end of that recital and this engrossing set, tapping our feet as she sings a Zapateado from a zarzuela, the vocal patter delivered with stunning verve, about a tarantula (a metaphor for a young lover) that has stung the precocious singer. LS provides the predictably well-informed and amusing notes, but I do wish he had been allowed more space to describe in more detail the wide variety of material. Andrew Walter’s transfers are impeccably done.