Notes and Editorial Reviews
A compelling piece recorded live at its premiere.
Born in Córdoba, Palomo now lives in Berlin, having been a member of the music staff of the Deutscher Oper Berlin between 1981 and 2004. For all his residence in Germany, his music never forgets its Spanish or, more specifically, its Andalusian roots.
In Cervantes’ great, and profoundly influential work,
Don Quixote, Dulcinea - whose ‘real’ name was Aldonza Lorenzo del Toboso - is an all-pervading, but unspeaking and invisible presence. She is the ‘muse’ of all Don Quixote’s activities, his creative transformation of an ordinary peasant girl (it seems), into an inspiring figure of beauty and goodness. The reader never meets her, and
she has no voice of her own. Like so much else in Quixote’s life she is the product of his reading and yet transcends all that has been previously written. In Chapter Thirteen of Volume One, Quixote affirms that “all the impossible and fanciful attributes of beauty which the poets apply to their ladies are verified in her; for her hairs are gold, her forehead Elysian fields, her eyebrows rainbows, her eyes suns, her cheeks roses, her lips coral, her teeth pearls, her neck alabaster, her bosom marble, her hands ivory, her fairness snow, and what modesty conceals from sight such, I think and imagine, as rational reflection can only extol, not compare”. She is a hopelessly unattainable ideal who inspires all of Quixote’s hope.
In many of the almost numberless reworkings of Cervantes’ text - as novel, play, musical, symphonic poem, opera, poem and much else - Dulcinea has been given visible body and audible voice. That is the case in this intriguing and rewarding piece, built upon poems by Carlos Murciano (b.1931). From the CD’s documentation it isn’t clear whether Murciano’s texts were specifically written for what the composer describes as a ‘Cantata-Fantasy for a Knight in Love’, or whether they were previously published. Either way there is a clear unanimity of vision between composer and poet.
Dulcinea is in ten sections, two of which are purely orchestral. Music and text seek to represent many conflicting points of view, contrasting judgements of this strangest of knights errant. In the first section (Los molinos de viento / The Windmills), the chorus - at this stage no more than commonsense observers, as it were - judge Quixote to be merely a self-deluded dreamer with a limping nag, a “defeated fighter, leader of none”, a man of “valour overblown” (quotations are from Susannah Howe’s translations of Murciano’s poems). In the third section (Cancíon del alba / Dawn Song) that same chorus at least recognises Quixote as “fearless”, as a knight with “His buckler held close, his lance secure”, who “hears a lark sing a song of hope”; now the chorus can recognise some value in the way “his gaze travels across the wide plain / his captive heart yearns for Dulcinea”. It is in the fourth section (Canto de Don Quijote / Ballad of Don Quixote) that we first hear the knight’s voice itself, as he dedicates himself and his life to Dulcinea (“I travel with my squire, / travel for you, my lady, / my hope and my destiny”) and seeks her blessing upon his soul, his helmet and his sword. In the sixth section the Chorus comes to a realisation of the necessary mutuality between Alonso Quijano (the ‘real’ name of that reader of romances who now imagines himself Don Quixote) and ‘Dulcinea’. Only she can truly give him his new name, and conversely, it is he who has given her her fame: “Alonso Quijano wishes / Aldonza to speak his name, / that is, he wishes Dulcinea / to recognise Don Quixote / as the valiant knight / who has made her fair and noble”. In the seventh section a dialogue between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza contrasts their feelings about their two ‘ladies’, Sancho praising his wife Teresa: “when I’ve a raging thirst, / she’s my jug and my water”. In the next section the Chorus has come to sympathise with Don Quixote and to admire him, to have wishes for him: “Let the word / of such a fair princess / be his abracadabra / […] / May the Knight / never open his eyes / and may he continue to follow / the path of his dreams”. In the ninth, penultimate section, Dulcinea (un-Cervantes like) has her say. She has, it seems, become that Dulcinea Quixote imagined her to be (“Aldonza is but a memory now, / I come from sun-drenched castles, / from the chamber of dreams”), now she is, indeed, Dulcinea (“My name is musical and sweet / as honey, as lavender”). She gives him her blessing, confirms
his name: “All honour to Don Quixote. / May he be welcome in my realm”.
Dulcinea closes with all the soloists, and the chorus, speculating on the nature of reality itself, of its relationship to dream, and of its embodiment, for men, in women.
I have summarised Murciano’s text at such length partly because of its own intrinsic interest but primarily because it is a prerequisite to any understanding of what Palomo’s work is about - this is no mere programme piece, no creation of incidental, pseudo-film music as it were, for Cervantes’ great novel. Murciano’s texts, though dependent on
Don Quixote for their very existence, are no mere paraphrases either; they are adventurous ‘translations’ and Palomo’s music needs to follow
their lead not that of Cervantes himself.
Still, as my summary will have indicated, some of the most famous episodes of the original novel remain, even if their significance has been somewhat transformed. The first section’s representation of the famous windmills begins with a wordless whispering from the chorus, evoking the wind, succeeded by an oboe solo which suggests the plains of La Mancha, before fiercely energetic rhythms from the orchestra build to a climax and the chorus enters. This is music which has its quasi-pictorial elements, but which also articulates the many conflicts (psychological, emotional, social) implicit in Murciano’s poems, and in the originating novel, conflicts which are often overlooked in more sentimental or merely humorous versions of the story of Don Quixote. Palomo’s use of orchestral colour, and the blending of choral voices with those orchestral colours, is particularly impressive in this first section. There is much else to admire too. The ‘Ballad of Don Quixote’, with its earnest plea that Dulcinea should utter his name just once, so that “all will become finer, / and all will be more pure”, is touching and grave, both in its vocal lines and the woodwind commentary on them. Palomo finds musical language to respond to the profundity of Murciano’s text, notably in Alonso Quijano’s / Don Quixote’s plea to Dulcinea to “Speak the name I have put / letter by letter above my own, / and I shall become Don Quixote, / the highest-born of men, / the noblest of knights / that ever did live”. The orchestral and choral Seguidilla contains some crisply rhythmic writing for both instruments and voices and in the dialogue which forms ‘Don Quijote y Sancho’, Palomo’s love lyric for Sancho Panza, in praise of his wife Teresa, is exquisite, the music in creative tension with the down-to-earth nature of the words in which Sancho expresses his feelings. The ‘Canto of Dulcinea’ is remarkable, a sustainedly lyrical traversal of a range of past and present experiences and emotions, moving towards Dulcinea’s ecstatic recognition that she is “princess of his desires / and mistress of his thoughts”, the point at which she can declare “all honour to Don Quixote” and affirm that he is “welcome in [her] realm”. Palomo’s music rises to almost mystical heights here and becomes a powerful expression of the power of beauty and imagination. The ‘Canto final’ which closes the work brings together all the soloists, with chorus and orchestra. In
Don Quixote it is Dulcinea who has no voice; in
Dulcinea it is, ironically, Teresa Panza who has no voice until this final scene, a final scene which, after some well-structured interplay of ideas, fades away, musically speaking, into “a dream / of love and freedom”.
Dulcinea is the best single work by Palomo that I have so far heard. The interest and quality of Carlos Murciano’s poems has clearly brought out the very best in Palomo. This recording was made at the world premiere of the work and the performance is consistently excellent. Ainhoa Arteta makes a captivating Dulcinea and Arutjun Kotchinian gives a memorable performance as Don Quixote; in their relatively minor roles Burkhard Ulrich and Cheri Rose Katz do all that is required of them, and do it with assurance and conviction. The work of chorus and orchestra is exemplary and conductor Miguel Angel Gómez Martínez draws from them all a committed and utterly convincing performance.
-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Dulcinea by Lorenzo Palomo
Burkhard Ulrich (Tenor),
Cheri Rose Katz (Mezzo Soprano),
Arutiun Kotchinian (Bass),
Aïnhoa Arteta (Soprano)
Berlin Deutsche Oper Chorus,
Berlin Deutsche Oper Orchestra
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