Jesús García Leoz: complete art songs. Cinco canciones (Paredes, 1934); Tríptico de canciones (Lorca, 1937); Seis canciones (Machado, 1952); Dos canciones (Jiménez, 1939); Canción de cuna (Alberti, 1941), Villancico (Diego, 1949); O meu corasón che mando (de Castro, 1951); Serranilla (Guillermo and Rafael Fernández Shaw, 1949); Canción de la Malibrán (1951)
Odradek [1-CD, ODRCD403, 64:37]
Although Jesús García Leoz (1904–53) died young, the fact that he is one of the great ‘might have beens’ of Spanish zarzuela should not overshadow his achievements outside the theatre. Established as a promising film composer before the Civil War – during which he was imprisoned for six months, as a noisy supporter of the republican cause – he later had little leisure to write for the stage, although his long list of cinema credits exhibits strong gifts for melodrama and comedy. His sole completed zarzuela was La duquesa del candil, to a verse libretto by Guillermo and Rafael Fernández Shaw, saturated with the serene charm of 1730s Madrid. Leoz’s cultured neo-classical score won the 1949 Premio nacional ‘Ruperto Chapí’ for best new zarzuela, and substantial extracts were recorded by Spanish Columbia.
His chamber music – considered by some critics over-conservative – has its charms, but there is no doubt that his twenty or so art songs make up his truest musical legacy. In Luna Clara the young Badajoz soprano Mar Morán and leading recital pianist Aurelio Viribay gather together Leoz’s complete output, including the concert version of Paca’s romanza ‘Serranilla’ from his zarzuela, and a demanding showpiece adapted from Luis Escobar’s 1951 biopic Canción de la Malibrán. The composer’s fluent lyricism and harmonic subtlety spring forth fully-armed in his earliest cycles, the Cinco canciones of 1934 and justly popular 1937 Lorca Tríptico, with their echoes of Turina, Falla and Ravel. After the war he absorbs the sunny neo-classicism of his contemporary Joaquín Rodrigo, and his final songs reveal stronger individuality: the late Seis canciones (1952), masterful settings of Antonio Machado, are perhaps his most personal utterance.
The prime attribute needed for Leoz’s classic, almost stylised emotions is a beautiful voice, and Morán certainly has that. Hers is a superb instrument, warm in timbre, with very personal occluded shadings in mezza voce setting off a bright, true lyric soprano in alt. These gifts are especially well-suited to the poised melancholy of such evocative vignettes as ‘Luna clara’, which opens the Cinco canciones and lends its title to the disc; and to the gentle, loving intimacy of the Canción de cuna (cradle song) of 1941. Over the disc’s whole span I did sense a certain self-absorbed quality, and came to miss the livelier play of emotions which María José Montiel brought to these songs in her 2001 set for Fundación Autor, especially the two ‘theatre’ numbers. Time will surely mature the interpretative aspect of Morán’s art; and in spite of my reservation, this remains lovely singing, of outstanding potential.
She has the perfect partner in Viribay, who proves especially adept at bringing out Leoz’s telling shifts between major and minor – sometimes, as in the case of the first and most aerial of the Lorca lyrics, ‘Por el aire van’, in the course of a single phrase. In ‘Verde verderol’ (‘Green greenfinch’), the first of the Dos canciones from 1939, he vividly evokes the bird’s cheeping and pecking; and both singers are at their best in my personal highlight, ‘Llamó a mi corazón’ (‘It called to my heart’), the fourth and richest of the Machado set. He also provides the admirably comprehensive and thoughtful liner notes. Given Odradek’s natural, well-balanced and realistic recording – superior to Autor’s for Montiel – and full texts plus translations, this absorbing, delightful album is certain to gain new admirers for Mar Morán, not to mention the composer himself.
© Christopher Webber and zarzuela.net, 2021