Signum Classics


A Choral Postcard
from Spain

Coro Cervantes; Olatz Saitua (soprano); Jagoba Fadrique (baritone); Laia Cortés (mezzo-soprano); Carlos Aransay (conductor)

En Aranjuez con tu amor (Rodrigo arr. Aransay); Xivarri (Alcaraz); Aurtxoa Sehaskan (Gabriel de Olaizola arr. José Olaizola); El Vito (Obradors arr. Aransay); Al paño fino (arr. Littel); Volar (arr. Sanz Vélez); Negra sombra (Montes); Jo tinc un burro (Rodrigo); ¿Ondi jueron? (García Martín); Ton pare non té nas (arr. Bibiloni); El cant dels ocells (arr. Millet); Suari Kanta (Azurza); Riverana (Goyenechea); Esta tierra (Busto); Nana (Ruiz-Aznar); Soy de Mieres (Guridi); Pero Grullo (de Durango); El gavilán (Yagüe); Arrorró (arr. Falcón Sanabria); La tarara riojana (arr. Fermín Gurbindo); Adiós, Granada (Barrera and Calleja arr. Ruiz-Aznar); Epitafio de Don Quijote (Rodolfo Halffter); Epitafio de Dulcinea (Rodolfo Halffter); Epitafio de Sancho Panza (Rodolfo Halffter); Balada de Mallorca (de Falla)

[rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead, London, 14-16 July 2009. Full English and Spanish notes, Iberian language texts and translations]

Signum Classics SIGCD196 [TT=70:46]

It’s arguable that the best professional Spanish a capella choir is based not in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao or Valencia, but in London. Carlos Aransay’s Coro Cervantes, founded with the assistance of the Instituto Cervantes in 1995, has gained many plaudits for its work in bringing the riches of Iberian choral music, sacred and profane, to a larger public. Their first CD O Crux included pieces by Vives, Bretón and Barbieri amongst many sacred rarities; and this new disc presents the profane side of the Spanish coin.

A Choral Postcard is a neat title, confounding touristic images in a cornucopia of regional styles. Only the opening track, the slow movement of Rodrigo’s ubiquitous concerto set to a chunk of verbal españolada, nods to the tourist trade; though when it’s sung with such poise, taste and impeccable tuning it’s hard not to be beguiled as ever by the bejewelled beauty of Rodrigo’s moment of genius. This is a party piece which everyone will enjoy.

What follows is a virtuoso collection of traditional songs and modern compositions covering just about every Spanish region. Mood and tempo are cunningly varied by Aransay. And the range of flavours is marvellous, from the vernal freshness of the Basque Country (Olaizola’s familiar Aurtxoa Sehaskan, with Olatz Saitua a most affecting soloist) through the light, almost French maritime melancholy of the Cantabrian Volar, to the deep fatalism of the Andalusian granadinas from Emigrantes: Valentín Ruiz-Aznar’s arrangement uses clever choral imitation of the flamenco guitar accompaniment hinted at in Barrera and Calleja’s original orchestration, without distracting from the silver thread of the quasi-improvised vocal line. What a contrast is El Vito (familiar from Giménez’s Luis Alonso zarzuelas, and earlier used by Auber in Le Domino Noir) with its fiery evocation of Andalusian women dancers imitating the movements of bullfighters.

The most recent compositions are amongst the highlights: I was spellbound by Rubén García Martín’s ¿Ondi jueron?, its juicy harmonic suspensions capitalising on the earthy strength of the Extremaduran Castúo dialect of José María Gabriel y Galán’s poem El Cristu Benditu. Here as always, the security of the choir’s tuning and sensitive response to the text make for enthralling listening.

Set apart from the main journey are a Cervantes triptych, epitaphs to Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and Dulcinea in Rodolfo Halffter’s warmly neo-classical style, seasoned with stylistic gestures towards 16th century vocal practice; and – to finish – de Falla’s late and lovely Balada de Mallorca, a five-minute setting of a Catalan text by Verdaguer, inspired by the composer’s feeling for Chopin’s Second Ballade, Op.38. Relaxed but precise, this is the best recording of this deceptively tricky little masterpiece I’ve heard.

Like a fine bottle of manzanilla, the CD is best taken at more than one setting; and in some of the more rustic songs (such as Durango’s 17th century Navarra standard Pero Grullo) Coro Cervantes’s super-smooth, sophisticated blend could perhaps have been relaxed a mite to ring the vocal changes; but that’s critical nit-picking. In truth, it’s hard to find fault with a disc so successful, in execution as much as conception. More, please!

© Christopher Webber 2010

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28 June 2010