La verbena de la Paloma (Ricardo de la Vega / Tomás Bretón). Cast: Susana - Ana María Iriarte; Julián - Manuel Ausensi; Seña Rita - Toñy Rosado; Casta - Marianela de Montijo; Don Hilarión - Carlos Oller; La Cantaora - Inés Rivadeneira; Tía Antonia - Patrocinio Rico; Portera - Soledad Jiménez; Don Sebastián - Juan Encabo; El tabernero - Gerardo Monreal; Portero - Sebastian Vazquez. Gran Orquesta Sinfónica, Coro Cantores de Madrid, c. Ataúlfo Argenta (1952)
Pressure of time has been responsible for my tardy acknowledgement of Naxos’s valuable series of mp3 downloads taken from out of copyright zarzuela LP recordings, many of them classics. A little searching will turn up getting on for thirty recordings. Not all are tagged “zarzuela”, so it is worth searching the classicsonline.com search engine for your favourite composers. David Lennick’s transfers are smoothly professional, and the subtly managed hiss removal has not resulted in too much loss of upper partials. Where they duplicate Novoson issues, the Naxos sound is infinitely preferable and at £1.99 per album these downloads are great value for anyone looking to supplement their CD zarzuela library.
Amongst the most interesting is an Ataúlfo Argenta rarity, never issued on CD in any form and hard to find on LP. His 1952 studio recording of La verbena de la Paloma was one of the very earliest Alhambra issues, but when the conductor’s remake appeared in 1958 the company bizarrely issued it under the same number (MCC 30000), whilst withdrawing the first version from circulation. The 1952 record is thus something of a rarity. It’s frustrating that the Naxos cover thoroughly confuses the issue by giving top billing to Miguel Ligero, whose inimitably outrageous Don Hilarión does indeed grace the 1958 remake, but not the 1952 recording we have here! In fact the veteran Carlos Oller sings the role rather better, conveying a subtle reality not aimed at by his iconic comedic rival, and arguably more attuned to home listening.
That observation defines the difference between the two performances, 1952’s more leisurely musical values countered by the remake’s superior theatrical urgency. Ausensi’s Julián was certainly somewhat less strenuous in 1952, with an extra degree of lyric ardour well matched by Rosado’s warmly sympathetic Seña Rita. There’s a bright innocence to his relationship with Iriarte’s Susana which neither singer quite matched in the remake, where their sparring is more cynically jaded. The smaller parts are well taken, with Rivadeneira (promoted to Rita in 1958) a richly raw Cantaora and Monreal a strikingly sardonic Tabernero.
Lennick has done his best with the limited sonic possibilities of the 1952 recording, pretty well balanced between singers and orchestra, but eclipsed by the superior brightness, dynamic range and theatrical ambience of the remake (itself given an unusually good transfer by BMG as part of their 1996 Argenta Edition, on RCA Classics 74321 35967 2). On balance, though, I lean marginally towards the musical solidity of Argenta’s 1952 take on Bretón’s masterpiece, at least for repeated listening. Certainly nobody need hesitate to add such a cheap but valuable download to their library, well stocked with Verbenas though it may already be.
© Christopher Webber 2011
04 April 2011