MANUEL DE FALLA: Nights in the Gardens of Spain, for piano and orchestra; La Vida Breve – Interlude and Dance No. 1; The Three-Cornered Hat – Clara Haskil, piano (1-3)/ Concerts Lamoureux/ Igor Markevitch/ Teresa Berganza, mezzo (5-12)/ Suisse Romande Orch./ Ernest Ansermet (4-12) – Praga Digitals stereo-only SACD PRD/DSD 350 064, 66:35 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
These circa-1961 recordings are of selections titled only in the Spanish on the front and back of the jewel box as well as on the actual SACD. The Three-Cornered Hat ballet has been a classical audiophile favorite since its first release, and was given the audiophile remastering treatment for a lavish xrcd24 reissue by First Impression Music some time ago. It appears to have been sourced from copies of the original Decca analog studio master tapes, and is very good. However, this new Praga reissue—part of a series of two-channel and even mono historical reissues on SACD—sounds to me identical to the F.I.M. xrcd24, offers the lush and impressionistic Nights in the Gardens of Spain with one of the greatest pianists, and is also less expensive. It says it was sourced from the Decca/London commercial stereo tapes, much like HDTT has been doing for years now. There is only one other SACD of the Nights in the Gardens and it is by a lesser piniast and orchestra. (My personal favorite of the work is Alicia de Larrocha’s standard Decca CD with Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducting.)
While several French composers did a terrific job of capturing the Spanish feeling in some of their compositions, Falla was a native of Spain and had it down perfectly. Of his Nights in the Gardens he said it was written “to evoke places, sensations and sentiments.” Its first movement—In the Generalife—is named for the gardens of the summer residence of the Moorish kings who ruled Granada from the nearby Alhambra Palace. The third movement—In the Gardens of the Sierra e Cordoba—has a festive mood, portraying the wild singing and dancing of a gypsy encampment. Haskil’s version thruout is not as fiery a temperament as de Larrocha, but fits in well for his expressive piano and orchestra masterpiece.
Ernest Ansermet premiered The Three-Cornered Hat one-act ballet in London in 1919. It had sets designed by Picasso and choreography by Massine. The music uses Spanish folk idioms and dances. There’s a lot of castanets, clapping and crowd shouts of “Olé.” The scenario is mainly around the local magistrate (who wears a three-cornered hat) attempting to seduce the miller’s wife, until he is humiliated and run off by the miller. The offstage voice of Teresa Berganza’s mezzo-soprano sounds thoroughly offstage, which provides an interesting contrast with the closer music-makers. Falla quotes the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony for the fateful knock on the door when the magistrate has the miller arrested.
This is another fine Jazz Dispensary anthology, just in time for Record Store Day 2022.