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Albéniz: Merlin / Eusebio, Domingo, Alvarez

Release Date: 10/10/2000 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 467096   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Isaac Albeniz
Performer:  Jane HenschelJavier FrancoAngel RodriguezCarlos Chausson,   ... 
Conductor:  José De Eusebio
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Spanish National ChorusMadrid Comunidad ChorusMadrid Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

"Albeniz? Oh yes, he's the Spanish pianist-composer who wrote Iberia," is the answer most music aficionados would give. Even those who consider themselves learned would be surprised at the true depth and range of Albeniz's accomplishments. How many would guess, for instance, that he was a devoted Wagnerian (even being one of the founders of Spain's Associacio Wagneriana), and composed not one, but several operas, some of them in English. Merlin, composed in 1898, was the first of a projected King Arthur trilogy (which was to continue with Launcelot and conclude with Guenevere), and as such would be Albeniz's answer to Wagner's Ring cycle. The music is unabashedly Wagnerian, opening with a
Read more sustained Rheingold-like drone, and making conspicuous use of the leitmotiv technique. But Albeniz is no carbon copy of the Bayreuth master, and his score reveals influences of his cosmopolitan musical education. For instance, we can hear in the score's whole-tone harmonies and swaggering brass flourishes reflections of his studies with Paul Dukas (though the marching interlude of Act 1 unerringly brings to mind Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony). Of course, the Spanish Albinez does make his presence felt, primarily in Nivian's dance sequence from Act 3.

The libretto, by the English banker Francis Burdett Money Coutts, tells of Merlin's desire to have the young Arthur crowned King of England. Morgan Le Fay suspects Merlin's magic trickery at work when Arthur succeeds in pulling Excalibur from the stone, denying her son Mordred the Kingdom, which she claims is rightfully his since he is of royal blood. In Act 2 Morgan and Mordred have been captured after waging war against Arthur, who pardons them, leaving Morgan to plot her revenge against Arthur and Merlin. I'm not giving anything away by telling you that the opera ends with Merlin trapped in a cave by his own greed, since this cliffhanger is only the end of Part One.

Part Two, Launcelot, was composed by Albeniz in piano score, and there is currently work in progress on its orchestration. Unfortunately the third part, Guenevere, never made it beyond the planning stage. Merlin is a very beautiful opera containing music that is always engaging and, at times, captivating. The libretto, in the style of Victorian poetry, is more than a bit insufferable, with some tracts reading like a Dr. Seuss book. Nevertheless, the singers do their utmost to communicate the passions of their characters, even if, as usual in English opera, the words are barely intelligible.

A marvelous group of voices was chosen for this recording: Carlos Álvarez is darkly powerful as Merlin, while Placido Domingo sings in firm tones for Arthur. Jane Henschel's rich timbre and dynamic range realize a deliciously imperious Morgan Le Fay, and Ana María Martínez's Nivian seduces with her mesmerizing singing. There also are some sterling performances from the very well-trained choral groups, who demonstrate not only fine singing but refined English diction as well. José De Eusebio, who painstakingly reconstructed the full score, leads a passionately convincing performance with the Orquesta Sinfónicia de Madrid. Opera lovers owe a debt of gratitude to the government of Madrid for its generous support of this project, to Placido Domingo, who lent considerable influence, and to Decca for having the courage and foresight to produce and release this important (and excellent sounding) recording. [1/26/2001]
--Victor Carr Jr., ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Merlin by Isaac Albeniz
Performer:  Jane Henschel (Soprano), Javier Franco (Baritone), Angel Rodriguez (Tenor),
Carlos Chausson (Bass), Ana Maria Martinez (Soprano), José López Ferrero (Tenor),
Javier Roldan (Bass), Placido Domingo (Tenor), Christopher Maltman (Baritone),
Felipe Bou (Baritone), Carlos Alvarez (Baritone)
Conductor:  José De Eusebio
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Spanish National Chorus,  Madrid Comunidad Chorus,  Madrid Symphony Orchestra
Written: c.1898 
Date of Recording: 1999 
Venue:  Auditorio Nacional de Madrid 

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