Manuel de FALLA: Nights in the Gardens of Spain; The Three-Cornered Hat – Mari Kadama (p.) /Sophie Harmsen, (mezzo) /Orch. de la Suisse Romande/Kazuki Yamada – Pentatone

Manuel de FALLA: Nights in the Gardens of Spain; The Three-Cornered Hat; Interlude and Dance from ‘Life is Short’; Ritual Fire Dance from ‘The Bewitched Love’ – Mari Kadama, piano/Sophie Harmsen, mezzo-soprano/Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Kazuki Yamada – Pentatone SACD PTC5186-598 [Distr. by Naxos] (5/05/17) 72:59 ****:

Some wonderful readings under this rising star young conductor.

If you already like the music of Spanish “nationalist” composer Manuel de Falla, as I do, there are a lot of reasons to like this new and sparkling collection of his best known works. If you do not already know much of de Falla’s music this disc would be a great place to start.

The piano soloist in the sublime Noches en los jardines de España is Mari Kadama, a very fine pianist best known for her knockout recording of the Beethoven sonatas. She also happens to be the spouse of esteemed conductor Kent Nagano. The Nights in the Gardens of Spain is one of de Falla’s signature works; a sultry and beautiful exploration of the mélange of cultural styles found in Andalucia and Catalonia and, for de Falla, influenced by his studies in Paris and the impressionism of Debussy. It is not a technical showpiece for the pianist but the work remains one of the composer’s best known masterworks.

De Falla’s best known work, from his relatively small output, might be El sombrero de tres picos. The “three corned hat” of the title is the headgear which results in some mistaken identity in this ballet of comedic theme but rich with Spanish and Flamenco melodies and rhythms. There are actually many renditions of The Three Cornered Hat to be had and some are really classics – including the one many believe to be the performance by Ernest Ansermet with this same Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Yamada’s rendition here is lively, beautifully performed and well-paced.

Both of the selections from two theatre works by de Falla, La vide brève and El amor brujo are also performed with verve and are arguably the best known set pieces from those two fairly small works. Indeed, the “Ritual Fire Dance” from The Bewitched Love is often performed as a stand-alone work on symphonic concerts. It is important too to remember that de Falla’s ‘mission’ was to construct a symphonic repertoire that represented the native sounds of his country; he was trying consciously to do what Bartok was doing in Hungary or Sibelius in Finland. As theater pieces both Life is Short and The Bewitched Love have had sparse appearances on the stage and exist largely as concert suites to this day. These wonderfully orchestrated works do exhibit de Falla’s gift for color as well as his admiration for the ballet spectacles being produced by Diaghelev and Stravinsky at the time.

Pentatone’s SACD recordings are all amazingly lifelike and full but do not overwhelm a listening space. I have many of them and have never been disappointed. Maybe the best reason to get this recording, however, is to be in “on the front end” of maestro Kazuki Yamada’s output. This young Japanese conductor was the winner of the Besançon International Competition and is the music director and founder of the Yokohama Sinfonietta. He has also served as a guest conductor worldwide and I would not be surprised at all if one day soon he is thought of and mentioned in the same way as Kent Nagano or Seiji Ozawa. I think he is a very exciting star worth watching.

—Daniel Coombs

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