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Hyperion Records

CDA67954 - Canciones españolas
An Allegory of Happiness by Julio Romero de Torres (1880-1930)
Museo Julio Romero de Torres, Córdoba / Bridgeman Art Library, London
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Release date: February 2013
Total duration: 67 minutes 57 seconds

'Guridi's 'High up on that mountain' … is a significant discovery, capturing the dark mysticism of Spanish culture with surprising turns and unexpected splashes of thick harmonic colour. Turina's Tres poemas are marvellous instances of songs that use nature descriptions to reveal intense inner states of being … the rest of the disc suggests the presence of a major artist' (Gramophone)

'Sylvia Schwartz is Spanish born, and these warmly seductive and rhythmically supple performances of a beguiling selection of songs by Granados, Turina, Montsalvatge and others are idiomatic and playful … Malcolm Martineau’s robust playing of the piano parts is a joy' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Soprano Sylvia Schwartz's reputation as a rising star is confirmed by her Hyperion debut album, a programme of songs from her native Spain, finely accompanied by Malcolm Martineau. There's a tangy, lived-in quality in Schwartz's tone that is immediately appealing … a wide emotional range that easily encompasses the wit of Granados's Tonadillas en Estilo Antiguo, the operatic scale of Turina's Tres poemas and the reined-in political fury of Montsalvatge's Cinco canciones negras. There are some exquisite songs in Catalan too' (The Guardian)

'This is a delightful programme of early twentieth-century Spanish song full of the atmosphere and seductive charms of Spain … Martineau proves to be an instinctive Spaniophile in his enchantingly nuanced accompaniments. He brings us as close as it is possible in a purely aural medium to the sights and scents of Spain … ever the ideal accompanist, he does not so much prod and pull as envelop the singer, leaving her all the space in the world to root into the very soul of these richly characterful songs … making her recital debut on Hyperion, Sylvia Schwartz delivers these songs with impressive precision and security … a voice so clearly focused that it seems to shine through the music like a bright guiding light. She has reserves of passion and emotion, which wisely she holds back for the very few occasions where it is musically warranted, but she mostly presents clear, confident and unaffected performances, revealing a total command over every aspect of the music. The vocal timbre has a pleasing combination of purity and rich maturity which makes for some arresting singing … strong and compelling performances' (International Record Review)

'Schwartz shows a wonderful voice, warm responsiveness to the texts and perfectly idiomatic Spanish. The programme is well-chosen, showing variety of mood, style and soundworld: Guridi's Six Catalan Songs have never been done more vibrantly, more movingly on record. Martineau is, as ever, the perfect collaborator' (Classical Music)

'In Turina's Tres poemas, the soprano glides from sinuous habanera to a soaring paean to nature, moving from gentle breezes to fires and weeping willows' (The New Zealand Herald)

Canciones españolas
Songs by Granados, Guridi, Turina, Toldrá & Montsalvatge
The Seis canciones castellanos by Jesús Guridi—improbably lush late-Romantic effusions to have been written after the Spanish Civil War, in 1939 … found the soprano in her best voice and most communicative form. The fourth song in particular—‘No quiero tus avellanas’—was simply exquisite as a piece of sustained singing, beautiful as sound, meaningful as sense. The remaining two scheduled items, both also happily Spanish, found the soprano in evermore expansive and unbuttoned form … if her name belies the connection, her wholly idiomatic singing of the repertoire certainly makes the matter of Schwartz’s nationality crystal clear: this is music she was born to sing, and does so quite wonderfully … in response to her warm reception she gave three encores, all of which played to her strengths. The first, Granados’ ‘La maja de Goya’, was a lovely miniature of longing, sound and sense fully interlocking. (Opera Britannia)

A deeply seductive album of Spanish songs by composers including Granados and Turina, performed by the young Spanish soprano Sylvia Schwartz, whose commitment to this repertoire is described above, and is evident from her utterly enchanting performances.

A work from Granados’ Goyescas, perhaps more familiar in the piano version, opens the programme, which continues with Tonadillas en estilo antiguo, a set also inspired by the paintings of Goya and in which this soprano demonstrates her wonderful emotional and dramatic range. The folk-influenced set of songs by Guridi is a beautiful series of Castillan melodies, creatively transcribed by the composer with aplomb. The recital is completed by works by Turina, Toldrá and Montsalvage, including the latter’s universally popular ‘Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito’.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Sylvia Schwartz and Malcolm Martineau open their Granados group with La maja y el ruiseñor, a song that is sung during the third tableau of Goyescas. Granados had originally conceived this work as a set of piano pieces in two books inspired by the paintings of Francisco de Goya, and it was premiered as such in 1911 (Book I) and 1914 (Book II). The fourth of the six movements is called Quejas, o La maja y el ruiseñor (‘Complaints, or The maja and the nightingale’). These piano pieces became so popular that Granados later adapted the music for an opera of the same title. The libretto was by the Valencian journalist Fernando Periquet, the poet of the Tonadillas en estilo antiguo (or Colleción de tonadillas), and the original intention had been to give the premiere at the Paris Opéra—a plan thwarted by the outbreak of the First World War. It was eventually given at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, on 28 January 1916, in a double bill with Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci. La maja y el ruiseñor is sung in the opera by Rosario in the garden of her home: seated on a bench, she hears a nightingale and begins her song.

Granados’s Tonadillas en estilo antiguo were to a great extent also inspired by the paintings of Goya—Granados was an excellent painter and owned some of Goya’s works. A tonadillo is a theatre song, originally accompanied by a small orchestra or a guitar, and in the eighteenth century tonadillas were frequently sung by a singer in costume between the acts of plays, as a sort of vocal intermezzo. The range of mood in these songs is varied: passionate, despairing, coy and teasing. Only one is written in the bass clef, and three were dedicated to the celebrated Catalan soprano Maria Barrientos (whose recording remains a benchmark). Composed in 1911–13, the tonadillas were written ‘in the old style’, and are a nostalgic evocation of the working-class neighbourhoods of nineteenth-century Madrid. The word majo (and its feminine maja) refers to the artisans living in such districts of Madrid as Lavapiés and the area around the church of San Antonio de la Florida—the word simply means ‘pretty’, except when it is applied, as in these songs, to the lower-class characters who lived in these places.

Of the twelve songs in the set we hear nine. The maja in El majo discreto admits that, though her man is ugly, he has other qualities including an ability to keep secrets. Her confidence in him is conveyed by a piano introduction of resolute octaves. El majo tímido expresses the maja’s dissatisfaction with her majo’s shyness: he comes to her window but as soon as he sees her, he sighs and sets off down the street. ‘Lord, what a dithering fellow!’, she cries, and ends the song by saying that girls in love detest a silent window (‘¡Odian las enamoradas/las rejas calladas!’). Amor y odio has a wonderfully tender folk-like melody that expresses the sorrow caused by love, and the contrast between love and hate is conveyed musically by major/minor alternations. La maja de Goya is introduced in the original version by a spoken monologue in which the singer, accompanied by the guitar-like music we hear here, recites a long poem about Goya’s amorous affair with the Duchess of Alba, which leads into her song about wishing to find someone to love her as Goya did. Callejeo describes how the maja paces the streets to find the man to whom she surrendered herself—but he has fled. ‘If need be’, she concludes, ‘I’ll pursue him the length and breadth of Spain.’ El tra-la-la y el punteado is unmistakably Spanish in flavour. ‘It is pointless, my majo, to go on talking, for some things I answer only in song’—and the piano, sounding for all the world like a guitar, echoes each of the ‘tra-la-la’ sections. La maja dolorosa is a small cycle of three songs, wonderfully expressive miniatures, laments of love that reveal the composer’s emotional depth and sensitivity. The songs are extraordinarily concentrated expressions of grief—unlike his contemporary Albéniz, Granados rarely indulged in brilliance and virtuosity. The first song seethes with anger and despair; the second looks back romantically on passion once shared; and the third recalls past happiness. All three songs are linked thematically. The Mentidero, mentioned in the third song, was a small square in eighteenth-century Madrid—now the entrance to the Calle del Léon; and Florida was the district around the church of Antonio de la Florida in Madrid, where Goya painted in the cupola his frescos of the Miracle of Saint Anthony.

Much of Jesús Guridi’s work pays tribute to his Basque heritage. He was born in Vitoria in the Alava province of north-eastern Spain, south west of San Sebastian. Like Turina he was a pupil of d’Indy at the Schola Cantorum, and went on to study organ and composition with Joseph Jongen in Brussels. Having returned to Bilbao, he made a name for himself as conductor, organist and composer. The Franco regime, however, suppressed works that related to Basque culture, which meant that operas such as Mirentxu (1910) and Amaya (1920), zarzuelas such as El caserío (1924) and his three Basque song cycles never became popular during his lifetime. That was not the fate of his Seis canciones castellanas, which were published in 1941 by Union Musical Española, the state publishing company, and have remained firmly in the repertoire since the day of their publication. All six songs feature popular Castilian melodies that Guridi harmonizes with great skill.

The set opens with Allá arriba, en aquella montaña, which boasts a delightful folk melody that Guridi varies throughout the song. The girl compares in her imagination a farmer and a miller and opts for the farmer—a ploughman—who, she hopes, will come and serenade her at midnight, a hope that is accompanied by glistening arpeggios; and in the final bars of the song she gives him precise directions to her house. In ¡Sereno! the girl calls to the nightwatchman to come and rescue her, for a man has entered her house at night. ‘This man is killing me’, she sings, but the voluptuous melody contradicts the sense of the words. The song ends with a long atmospheric postlude. Llámale con el pañuelo expresses the girl’s fear that her bullfighter lover will be killed by the bull. The melismas in the voice derive from the cante jondo tradition, and the piano punctuates the vocal line like a passionate flamenco. No quiero tus avellanas is sung by the girl who realizes that her lover’s promises are empty—a sad, deeply felt and languid melody that expresses her thoughts to perfection. ¡Cómo quieres que adivine! has a rhythmic ostinato figure that pulses through the entire song, as the boy looks forward to the day when the girl will be his. Mañanita de San Juan refers to St John’s Day that falls on 24 June, Midsummer Day. The song is the most lyrical of the set, as the boy is urged to make a garland—for the night is clear and music resounds from the depths of the sea.

Joaquín Turina, like Manuel de Falla, was a native of Seville, and also spent time in Paris, where he was influenced by French musical style. Although he studied with d’Indy at the Schola Cantorum and was greatly attracted by the music of Debussy, his compositions remained essentially Spanish. Albéniz encouraged him to seek inspiration from the rich heritage of Spanish folk music, and much of his guitar and vocal music is characterized by Spanish colour and rhythms. The Tres poemas date from 1933 and set three poems by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, whose Rima Turina had set a decade earlier. Bécquer lived for a time in Madrid, eking out an existence in journalism and translation work and churning out a number of zarzuela libretti long since forgotten. In 1858 he fell in love with Julia Espín, the muse of a number of his Rimas—unrequitedly, as the texts of songs by Albéniz, de Falla, Mompou and Turina tell us. His poems have often been described as ‘suspiritos germánicos’—a reference to Heine’s Buch der Lieder poems, which Bécquer knew partially through Gérard de Nerval’s translation of Lyrisches Intermezzo. Bécquer’s poems, however, lack Heine’s cynicism, as we see especially in Besa el aura, and also Olas gigantes, set both by de Falla and by Federico Mompou in his Bécquerianas (1971). Tu pupila es azul, the second of the Tres poemas, was originally entitled ‘Imitación de Byron’, inspired as it was by Byron’s ‘I saw thee weep’. Turina varies the vocal line of each stanza, and the accompaniment, which starts with a staccato motif based on simple chords, develops more virtuoso characteristics at the end of the third verse, when we hear romantic arpeggios and guitar-like music to accompany the vocal cadenza with which the song ends.

Eduardo Toldrá was born, like Mompou, in Catalonia, but unlike his compatriot played a leading role in the musical life of his country, composing a great deal of chamber, orchestral and vocal music, and a number of extremely popular sardanas (a type of Catalan folk dance). For many years he was the first violinist of the Quartet Renaixement, and was appointed the first conductor of the Barcelona Municipal Orchestra in 1944. His style is essentially melodic and lyrical, as we hear in his popular comic opera El giravolt de Maig (1928). Little known on the international scene—his conservative music was written at the time when Stravinsky and Schoenberg were breaking new ground—there has been renewed interest in his work, especially the songs, since the late twentieth century. Abril and Maig were composed in 1920 to poems by Trinitat Catasús. They are short, uncomplicated and lyrical, and also nicely contrasted: Abril is marked Assats animat; sempre airosament, while Maig is a wonderfully serene description of the month of May which speaks of breezes, lifting mists, burgeoning flowers, silvery nights and the soft humming of bees (‘Bordoneig suau d’abelles’).

Xavier Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras have reached a wider audience, thanks to the universal popularity of the charming lullaby Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito. The songs, written in 1945–6, have become one of the most frequently performed works of the composer, who was born in Gerona in 1912 and wrote—apart from songs, operas and ballets—several fine orchestral and instrumental pieces. The set seems all of a piece from the poetic point of view, a cleverly chosen anthology, beginning with a distinguished poem by Rafael Alberti which bemoans the all-pervasive influence of the United States on the dying cultures of Central America. In a very subtle way the work addresses various issues of colonialism and racialism—a roundabout but clear message from a Catalan humanitarian living in Franco’s Spain. Cuba dentro de un piano, a song in which recitative, melody and declamation alternate freely, is held together by a swaying habanera rhythm; Punto de habanera, subtitled ‘A humorous flirtation à la 18th century’, describes how a young Creole girl walks alluringly down the street, as sailors feast their eyes on her. Montsalvatge uses the tempo and rhythm of the Cuban guajiras to depict the gait of the young ‘criolla’. The poem is by Néstor Luján y Fernández, a journalist of remarkable versatility who wrote on art, bullfighting, politics, sport and gastronomy. Chévere introduces a darker, more violent note. The poet Nicolás Guillén, himself a mulatto, often wrote poems in the language and rhythm of Cuba’s poor blacks. A lifelong revolutionary activist in Cuba, he was jailed in 1936 for the publication of ‘subversive material’; exiled in 1953 by the Batista government, he returned after Castro’s triumph in 1959. He is best known for his popular songs in which he introduces African rhythms and Yoruba words which are often used for their sound value, especially in refrains. Chévere describes a young black who vents his anger by brandishing a knife—the succession of violent chords in the accompaniment gives a vivid picture of the slashing blade. Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito unfolds over a rocking habanera bass line, and owes much of its magic to the gentle syncopations between voice and piano. The work closes with Canto negro, another poem by Nicolás Guillén that teems with African rhythms, Yoruba words and syncopated dance rhythms.

Richard Stokes © 2013

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