Falla’s output, though well respected, lacks the popularity it deserves among vocal enthusiasts. One reason may well be Falla’s overall limited output. He composed mainly for piano and orchestra, though he wrote several songs, six zarzuelas, a full scale opera, La vida breve (Brief Life), and the posthumous Atlántida, which occupied him the last nineteen years of his life. Another reason may be that, though Fallas’s music is forward looking and tinged with the influence of the French composers he met in Paris between 1905 and 1914, it is very esoteric in the composer’s use of the haunting melodies of his youth—Spanish folk music—part flamenco, part gypsy, and Cante jondo. However, that in itself is what makes his music so interesting and unique.
The vocal line in the two pieces on this disc is minimal but crucial to the story, especially in El amor brujo (Love, the Magician).
El amor brujo which premiered in 1915, and later revised, is the story of thwarted love between Candelas and her new lover, Carmelo, who cannot kiss her to break the spell of Cadelas’ dead lover. Alicia Nafé delivers a solid performance, at once eerie and intoxicating. Her dark, yet unmistakably feminine voice comes from the depths of a bottomless well to, at once, become all four characters in the story. The music too is intoxicating, with several very definite Andalusian folk themes woven in. The Danza ritual del fuego is probably the best known segment of the ballet, with its images of fire and doom, however the Introducción y escena, a bright outburst of sound and fanfare in contrast to the dark mood of the piece, is also worthy of praise.
El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) is a much lighter work: the stereotypical corrupt government official trying to take advantage of the simple people, but the plan backfires. The name of the piece derives from the three cornered hat that the Corregidor (magistrate) wears to signify his position. Soprano María José Martos gets little chance to display her instrument but when she does, it is a beautiful, secure lyric voice. The Jota is a lively dance at the end of the piece with many “Spanish” themes, one of which foretells Ravel’s La Valse composed two years after the premiere of Falla’s work.
Danza, from La vida breve, is thoroughly “Spanish” and quintessential Falla. Considered to be one of the finest moments of the opera, it takes place during a wedding celebration.
Maximiano Valdés knows the orchestra well and brings out the best from his players without neglecting or compromising the vocal parts.