leaves a
bitter taste

Caballero : Château Margaux [accidentally incomplete] Pilar Lorengar, Gerardo Monreal. Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Benito Lauret.
Guerrero: El ama [extracts] Luis Sagi-Vela, María Badía, Rosita Cadenas, Manuel Alares, Juan García, Arturo Lledo. Orquesta y Coro del Teatro Ideal de Madrid, c. Jacinto Guerrero.
Serrano: La alegría del batallon [Preludio and Canción Guajira – included accidentally] Carlos Munguía, Orquesta Sinfónica, c. Nicasio Tejada

Novoson CDNS-596 [TT=40:00]

Until now the Columbia recording under Benito Lauret of Caballero’s sparkling, all too brief score had only made it fleetingly to CD on a swiftly-withdrawn and very poor Homokord issue, so although a copy of the LP transfer was already in my collection I was delighted to discover that Château Margaux, coupled with extracts from Guerrero’s El ama, had been included in Novoson’s latest batch of re-releases.

As often happens when rare CD pearls are located, the excitement leading up to their arrival on the doormat grows like that of a child at Christmas. The fact that I had to wait for a month and a half for the CD to arrive from a USA seller served to increase my level of expectation. So having finally settled down to relax in the company of Pilar and Gerardo, I was thrown into a state of confusion and disappointment with the very first note. Surely this could not be Caballero’s Prelude? Having checked the label to make sure that I had the correct disc, I made a second attempt. No doubt about it: the notes flying blithely around the room certainly formed the Prelude, not to Château Margaux – but to Serrano’s La alegría del batallon!!

If I hadn’t already been familiar with both works I daresay I should have been trying to fathom the hidden significance of a military prelude to a work about the effects of French wine. I was soon to discover that the next number was also from Serrano’s score (Canción guajira) before Caballero’s fragrant vintage finally made an appearance with José’s canción. As the result of a massive mix-up, Novoson’s self-styled “complete zarzuela” consists here of just three of the five numbers. Missing are the Preludio and Angelita’s romanza, and we are left with a demi-bouteille comprising the remainder of the score. How this could have been allowed to happen is beyond belief.

On reflection Novoson’s track record for quality control has been patchy to say the least, so perhaps we should not be too surprised that they now seem unable to distinguish one zarzuela score from another. Is this music interchangeable? Do they think zarzueleros won’t notice? Answer to both questions – emphatically no! Possibly the sound engineer to whom I referred in my last review of Novoson releases has been moved to the Compilation Department, and on this showing he should swiftly be moved on from there too. Perhaps it would be best to issue a Spanish P45 and dispatch him without ceremony before he can damage the company’s tarnished reputation any further.

The remaining three glasses of Château Margaux are delightful. I have not heard a better performance of Angelita’s Waltz “No sé qué siento aquí”, sung by the heroine as she becomes increasing sloshed on glasses of the eponymous wine; and listeners will not be disappointed as Pilar Lorengar’s fine rendition sounds just as good here as it did on LP. Gerardo Monreal, always I think sounding a close vocal relative to Carlos Munguía, whom we’ve heard (unbilled of course) in the Serrano song, gives a bright characterisation of the comic servant José, finding only the final few low notes in his song to be just out of reach. Again the transfer sound quality is extremely good, making the fact that listeners are unable to hear either the Preludio or the Angelita’s Romanza all the more frustrating.

Having languished so long in the Columbia cellars this cheeky vintage should have been good and ready for tasting. But no – after one sip the verdict is clear. This long-awaited Château Margaux is decidedly corked.

Billed as another “complete zarzuela”, the ten items from the 1933 recording of Jacinto Guerrero’s three-act El ama, with Luis Sagi-Vela, María Badía and the rest under the composer’s own baton is identical to the selection issued on Homokord and Blue Moon. There seems little difference here in the archive sound quality but the Blue Moon finish is perhaps smoother and marginally kinder on the ear. Hearing this score again makes one wish that it could be favoured with a more up-to-date recording. In the meantime it’s good to welcome it back to the catalogue, albeit without the texts provided in Blue Moon’s now hard-to-come-by edition. Unlike Caballero aficionados, fans of Guerrero should not be disappointed by this infuriating botch-job.

© Ian Brown, 2011

 cd magazine
 zarzuela homepage

27 January 2011