Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sinfonía a Granada never less than colourful, Cantos des alma genuinely moving.
Lorenzo Palomo, a native of Córdoba, is a composer in whose music the traditions of Andalusia are never very far to seek – though he now lives in Berlin. His work has been fairly extensively performed in Spain and elsewhere; his Canciones españolas had its first performance, by Montserrat Caballé in 1987 at Carnegie Hall, for example, and his Dulcinea was premiered in May of 2006 in the Berlin Konzerthaus, with the chorus and orchestra of the Berlin Deutsche Oper. This is the second CD devoted to his work in the Naxos series of Spanish Classics: see the review by Göran Forsling and the review by Evan
Cantos del alma sets four poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958), a fellow Andalusian, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1956. The four texts chosen concentrate on Jiménez’ poetic skill in the evocation of landscape and object, but the selection also allows Palomo to respond to the poet’s sense of the interaction between the human soul and its surroundings, this being essentially the poetry of a kind of belated romanticism. In his settings, Palomo’s writing for the clarinet is particularly fine, not least at the beginning and end of the sequence. In the last song, ‘Los palacios blancos’, setting lines on the death of a child, the interweaving of soprano and clarinet achieves a poignant beauty, in music which is simultaneously elegiac and expressive of a sense of transfiguration, as the soul of the child enters the ‘white palaces’ of heaven. The four poems are symmetrically separated by an orchestral interlude which carries the title ‘Serenata antillana’. The reference to the Antilles evokes Jiménez’ much loved wife and inspiration, Zenobia Camprubí, whose family came from Puerto Rico – the island coming to be very valuable to the poet. Unfortunately on my copy, this track was faulty, though I could hear enough to find the piece richly evocative. Cantos del alma is the more substantial of the two works on this disc, the poems of Jiménez stimulating Palomo to the composition of music of considerable emotional depth and beauty.
The second work here, Sinfonía a Granada is a little more lightweight. The work was commissioned by the Regional Government of Granada and, though one doesn’t doubt the sincerity of the composer’s fascination with that wonderful city and its surrounding area, there are times when the music doesn’t entirely rise above the level of vivid local colour, when it settles for being a kind of high-class musical tourist brochure. Clarinet and soprano voice are replaced by guitar and soprano, poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez are, as it were, replaced by (lesser) poems by Luis García Montero. Again there are four songs and an instrumental interlude – though this time the interlude occurs after the third song rather than after the second. Montero himself is heard as a narrator. The writing for guitar – played with fluent idiomatic control by Vicente Coves – is steeped in the musical gestures of flamenco, especially the rhythmic patterns of the bulerías. ‘Subiendo a la Alhanbra’ is a kind of musical aubade, and the rhythm of the bulería again dominates in ‘La tierra y el mar’, where affinities with Rodrigo are perhaps most noticeable. ‘Danza del Sacromonte’ was, the composer tells us, inspired by a specific experience: “A couple of years ago I was spending the night in the company of the great flamenco singer, Enrique Morente, and other friends in the narrow streets of Sacromonte. A gipsy girl came out if a cave some distance from us. She was very graceful with long hair, and carrying a guitar. The tapping of her shoes resonated loudly in my ears. Her silhouette, lit up by the moon, stood out marvellously in the night. That image fascinated me”. The result is a striking piece, a miniature tone poem full of vivid colours and rhythmic patterns. It is a piece which might surely find its way into programmes, on disc or in the concert hall, independent of the rest of the Sinfonía a Granada. And perhaps in that suggestion lies the problem. The very title ‘Sinfonia’ perhaps encourages one to expect more unity than one encounters here. The work tends to fragment into five sections; in truth it would have been better described as a suite. As such, it contains - with its echoes of flamenco and gipsy rhythms, of Rodrigo, of the remembered melismata of much older musical traditions, some pleasantly attractive and colourful music, but feels a little lightweight after the powerful songs of the Cantos del alma.
Palomo has been very well served by his performers here. The two instrumental soloists are excellent and any Spanish composer (one is tempted to say any composer) who has his music sung by Maria Bayo is on to a very good thing. The City of Granada Orchestra play with discipline and colour under the direction of Jean-Jacques Kantorow. The whole makes a useful addition to a valuable series.
-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International
Cantos del Alma.
Sinfonía a Granada
Maria Bayo (sop); José Luis Estellés (cl);
Vicente Coves (gtr);
Luis García Montero (nar);
Jean-Jacques Kantorow, cond; City of Granada O
NAXOS 8.570420 (57:59)
This is the third Naxos disc of Lorenzo Palomo’s music I have reviewed for
, and in many ways it is the most integrated. It consists of two substantial song cycles for soprano and orchestra, each employing a different concertante instrument: clarinet in the
Cantos del Alma (Songs of the Soul)
and guitar in the
Sinfonía a Granada.
The first of these was premiered in Barcelona under Jesús López Cobos in 2002. Setting four evocative poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez, the composer makes telling use of the clarinet. In the first song the instrument represents the water bird (which in the poem is an object of fascination for a young girl), and later it contributes staccato rhythmic figures to the “Antillen Serenade.” This, the third song, is the longest movement of the work, beginning in lively style with its catchy instrumental dance before relaxing into a languid conclusion. It celebrates the soul of Puerto Rico, the birthplace of the poet’s wife.
A short march, beginning dramatically, leads to the brief and lyrical final song, “The White Palaces,” in which the singer mourns the death of an angel. (Aside: Can angels die? I would have thought it unlikely.) This cycle is not only beautifully written for the voice and the solo instrument, it also exudes a genuine atmosphere of deep calm. While the second movement (“Dawn Tientos”) reveals a Sephardic influence, overall there is none of the overt Spanish stamp of Palomo’s other works.
Andalusian fingerprints appear in the
, commissioned specifically to celebrate the variety of peoples inhabiting the province of Granada and premiered by these artists in 2007. The cycle begins with solo guitar and a recitation by the poet himself, Luis García Montero. The poetry in this work is more of the picture postcard variety—understandably, considering the specific brief of the commission—to which Palomo has added an all-purpose Andalusian sheen, using the cadences of flamenco as well as themes of a Herbraic and Arabic turn. These are obvious in the instrumental movement “Dance of Sacromonte,” a stomping rhythmic piece that would make a highly satisfying finale to a straightforward guitar concerto.
The symphony is a more public work than the
Cantos del Alma
, but it still contains moments of gentle lyricism, notably in the closing measures of the central poem, “The Land and the Sea,” and the final poem, “A Snow-Painted Sky.” The latter begins with soprano and guitar alone, and only by degrees does the orchestral backdrop steal in, a very effective moment of musical impressionism.
Performances, as in the other issues of this series, are first-rate. Bayo sings with authority and expression, and the other soloists are likewise excellent. I was greatly impressed with the tone of Estellés’s clarinet. Sound is clear, even though the soloists are placed unnaturally upfront in the balance (especially the guitar in the
Highly recommended: the
Cantos del Alma
is definitely a keeper. Texts and translations of the poems are accessible on the Naxos Web site.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Works on This Recording
Cantos del alma by Lorenzo Palomo
Maria Bayo (Soprano),
José Luis Estellés (Clarinet)
Granada City Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Sinfonia a Granada by Lorenzo Palomo
Maria Bayo (Soprano),
Vicente Coves (Guitar),
Luis Garcia Montero (Narrator)
Granada City Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
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