The continued spate of adventurous reissues on the Homokord and Blue Moon labels continues to delight and amaze those of us who have had no previous access to the extensive recorded legacy of the pre-LP days. The latest batch of five issues from Barcelona-based Blue Moon contains a wealth of stylish performance - they really don't make them like this any more.
Time and again listening to these well-filled CD's, I have been delighted by vocal artistry of an order seemingly lost to an age which trains singers to provide miked-up musical 'belt' or operatic clout, with very little in between. Singers such as Felisa Herrero, Angeles Ottein or María Teresa Planas may not have possessed 'big' voices, but they were distinctive, highly imaginative artists with unfailingly secure vocal production, working within a tradition where the ideal was to sing as beautifully as possible, as softly as possible.
One of these issues stands head and shoulders above the others in musicological if not musical interest. The original cast recordings of Sorozábal's triumphant first zarzuela Katiuska, made (with unusual marketing acumen) a month before the Barcelona premiere in January 1931 and conducted by the composer, are presented for the first time in tandem with the "remakes" made round about the time of the Madrid premiere the following year, on BMCD 7516.
The Barcelona sessions are specially thrilling, with original versions of two well-known numbers, as well as one song (Pedro's "Canto a la Patria") which was dropped completely for the Madrid production. It comes as a surprise that Katiuska's lovely "Noche hermosa" was originally written as "Balalaika" to a substantially different text. Music and scoring are virtually unchanged in the final version, but so much for the idea that Sorozábal set out to write a poetic nocturne on the beauty of the Ukranian May Night! The Foxtrot Quartet "A Paris me voy" started life as a solo for Olga - "Canta Saxafon", which speaks for itself. The final quartet version is much more effective, but it's good to hear the witty Olga of Amparo Albiach.
The impossibly rare "Canto a la Patria" is effortlessly turned by the youthful Marcos Redondo, who sings Pedro Stakoff with unfailing ease, taste and beauty throughout this and most of the other CD's in the Blue Moon batch. Why was it cut? It's not unlike the "Canta Ukraniana" or "La mujer Rusa" without perhaps being quite as distinctive as either. His performances of "Calor de nido" (we get both the Barcelona and the Madrid takes) are touching and effective, and he executes "La mujer Rusa" itself with a sweeping command far removed from the hectoring bark adopted by some later exponents of the song.
The excellent Katiuskas are Herrero (Barcelona) and Ottein (Madrid), and a one-off recording of the final version of "Noche hermosa" with Laura Nieto is also included. Most of the songs are here in some form or other, plus some orchestral versions - and additional dance material in some of the shorter comedy numbers to fill up the sides. As the original 78's would have cost the equivalent of 28,000 Pesetas (about £114) in today's money, this is perhaps just as well!
The fact that even these original prices are given in the booklet is indicative of the scrupulously full documentation that Blue Moon have included in this revealing and highly enjoyable issue. It costs a mere £10 or so in Spain, or £13.99 in London's Tower Records, so who said their was no such thing as progress? The tranfers are clean and full-bodied and the CD is worth every penny, if only to hear the original lovers, Herrera and Redondo, singing "Somos dos barcos" with such breathtaking, tender magnificence.
The other four issues are a mixed bag. The two fluffy Alonso revues on 7515 are already available in Sonifolk's La Revista Español series, whilst the Vila issue on 7517 duplicates Homokord's reissue two years ago of his Aquella Canción Antigua from 1952 - though it's nice to have synopsis and texts, as well as substantial fill-ups from the same composer's El caballero del amor with the young Maria Espinalt, and Romanza Hungara with Planas and Redondo from 1937.
Those two artists provide much of the meat in the richly diverse collection on 7514, with a sequence of highlights from Sorozábal's La del manojo de rosas recorded under the composer in 1936. La canción del olvido recorded under Capdevila in 1931 with Redondo and Ottein, and the original cast recordings of Guerrero's 1932 La fama del tartanero with an all-star cast led by the composer make up a thoroughly desirable CD.
The compilation on 7513 has substantial extracts from Penella's Don Gil de Alcala, plus highlights from Díaz Giles' El cantar del arriero, and Chueca and Valverde's La Gran Via - elegant singing from Redondo, Amparo Saus et al. under Capdevila in 1931 makes this about the most satisfying (albeit truncated) version of that classic that's come my way, at least.
© Christopher Webber 1999
BLUE MOON recent releases
highlights from: La Gran Via (Chueca & Valverde), Don Gil de Alcala (Penella), El cantar del arriero (Díaz Giles)
highlights from: La cancion del olvido (Serrano), La del manojo de rosas (Sorozábal), La fama del tartanero (Guerrero)
two revista-revues: Veintecuatro horas mintiendo, Ladronas de amor (Alonso)
Katiuska (Sorozábal) Compendium of the 1930 - 1932 recording sessions.
highlights from: El caballero de amor, Aquella canción antigua, Romanza Hungara (all by Vila)