Manuel Rosenthal – ALBENIZ: Iberia, de FALLA: Three Corner Hat – Forgotten Records

by | Nov 2, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

ALBÉNIZ (orch. Arbós): Iberia; FALLA: EL amor brujo: El sombrero de tres picos: Three Dances – Amparito Peris de Prulière, mezzo-soprano/ Orchestre de Théatre National de l’Opéra de Paris/ Manuel Rosenthal – Forgotten Records 2186 (69:20) [] ****:

Culled from the Vega LP catalogue, these suave performances (recorded April-May 1958) of Spanish ballet and theater pieces led by French maestro Manuel Rosenthal (1904-2003) demonstrate his fluent authority in a medium he polished over the course of a career in orchestral leadership that began in 1934. Among the last of Maurice Ravel’s direct pupils, Rosenthal earned Ravel’s sponsorship to join the conductor Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht at the French National Radio Orchestra in 1934. In 1937, Rosenthal created his most famous adaptation, that of Offenbach’s operetta music for Gaîté Parisienne, whose success impelled Serge Koussevitzky to invite him to serve as an assistant in Boston. During WW II, Rosenthal, even as a POW, worked for the French Resistance; and, in 1944, he assumed the post of the Orchestre National de France until 1947, then moving to the USA for tenures in St. Louis and Seattle. Extensive work in Liège, 1964-1967, led to his appointment with the MET in 1981. 

Rosenthal opens with a suite (rec. 28 April 1958) from the 1909 Iberia of Isaac Albéniz, as arranged by Enrique Arbós. The first of the set, “Evocación,” meanders between the modes of A in an impressionistic reminiscence, a combination of national dance forms, the fandango and the jota. The sensuous wash of the orchestral patina soon becomes a signature for the Rosenthal sound. The most expansive scenario follows, “Corpus Christi en Sevilla,” literally explosive in its celebration that embraces (snare drum and cymbals) marching bands, a mountain song (saeta), and strumming guitars. Albeniz has captured the Andalusian cante jondo (deep song) of the region that soon interacts with the rhythms to create a tarantella, climaxing on the quintuple forte of astounding power. Yet, the softer hues of the day prevail, in a gentle coda marked by the flute, tolling, remote church bells, and the soothing, flamenco guitars.

Albeniz sojourns to the gypsy quarter of Seville in his “Triana,” a colorfully chromatic piece in F# Minor that sachays with exotic and erotic gestures, tinted by sarcastic jabs in the woodwinds. The National Theater Orchestra strings and battery combine to achieve a sense of Moorish luxury in the unfolding spectacle. The opening material returns, delicately resonant until the forte coda. The fourth entry, El Puerto, set in D-flat Major, offers the kind of color that attracted Aaron Copland for his Spanish (Mexican) pieces. Here, the port city of Cadiz and El Puerto de Santa Maria provide the setting, a lively zapateado, whose middle section opens a seductive air with which the music quietly concludes. The final portrait, “El Albaicín,” invokes the district of Granada, the very locale for one of Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain. The mystery of the place demands that the key of B-flat alternate in major and minor modes, as the energy of the moves from a muscular dynamism to a sultry and diaphanous sonority. Again, a “deep song” arises filled with ardor and longing, pageantry as well as brutal, primitive urges.

Rosenthal turns to the impetuous and fiery score of 1915, Manuel de Falla’s brilliant, hybrid-pantomime, El amor brujo (rec. 2 May 1958), which utilizes an Andalusian, gypsy folk tale, orchestral narrative interrupted by song, an appeal to the duende sensibility, the flamenco (hondo) acceptance of life’s contradictions. Spanish mezzo-soprano Amparito Peris de Prulière intones, with her decidedly nasal projection, of the burning poisons of love and desire. Her accursed emotions demand exorcism, fulfilled by the later, luminously throbbing “Ritual Fire Dance.” 

The romantic luster Rosenthal invokes competes generously with the two, even three, Stokowski documents, of which the Nan Merriman and Shirley Verrett-Carter performances stand out. Rosenthal’s account, too, relishes the erotic mystery of the suite, its elemental celebration of the elusive, destructive, and regenerative power of love. Prulière’s song to the will’o-the-wisp laments the ephemeral and inconstant heart, how quickly love vanishes. The solo cello intones the broadly melodic “Dance of the game of love,” which sways in seductive rapture, answered in kind by a solo violin and distant horn. The final sequence, “The bells of dawn,” a time of reawakened hopes, suggests that love enjoys its own parthenogenesis, perhaps arising voluptuously from its own ashes.

Rosenthal concludes his Spanish tour with more music of Falla recorded at the same May session as El amor brujo , the Tres danzas from “The Three-Cornered Hat,” a favorite encore ensemble for conductors Ansermet and Mitropoulos. Conceived as a ballet-pantomime for Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, the complicated plot involves a village magistrate’s attempts to seduce a miller’s wife. The vibrant fandango energies and swirling motives emerge in glorious Technicolor under Rosenthal’s sure hand, recorded in luminous, albeit mono, sound at the Salle Apollo, Paris. Another coup for the Forgotten Records label worth pursuing.

—Gary Lemco

More information available through Forgotten Records

Album Cover for Michael Rosenthal conducts Albeniz and de Falla


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