, August 2009
The Spanish composer Anton Garcia Abril certainly boasts an interesting and varied academic background. He studied initially at the Madrid Royal Conservatory and subsequently at the Academia Chigiana in Sienna, where his teachers included the conductor Paul van Kempen. This was in the early/mid-fifties. Later, in 1964, he returned to Italy and the Academia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, as a scholarship student, which included classes with Goffredo Petrassi.
Whilst writing in a number of genres including opera, the musical folklore of the Asturias region has been an abiding thread through his career. Having composed “Three Asturian Songs” for a capella chorus in 1982 he followed these up two years later with a series of “Fourteen Asturian Songs”, written as part of a major project “Lirica Asturiana” (Asturian Lyricism). Originally written for the tenor Joaquin Pixan (the soloist on the present disc) and orchestra, the songs were recorded by CBS with Lopez-Cobos and the London Philharmonic Orchestra soon afterward.
In 2004 however the process was taken a step further. Whilst the new “Coleccion de canciones asturianas” (Collection of Asturian Songs) is drawn directly from the previous work, the accompaniment is now for piano. The result is more than simply a reduction. Instead it is, in the words of the sleeve-note writer Ramon Avello, “a sort of re-examination”; a dialogue of “…imaginary folklore, in the pianistic conception, and direct data, or real folklore, in the vocal line…” In other words the vocal line essentially follows the original folk melody whilst the accompaniment exhibits a more interventionist approach: “The piano not only takes up the melody, but also re-creates it, evokes it, frames it and projects it with lyricism, fantasy and freedom.” The results I found spellbinding.
Whether it’s the seductive lilt of “Una Estrella se perdido” (A star was lost), with its gentle introduction of subtle “wrong note” figures in the treble of the piano part; or the descending right hand figuration in the opening measures of the succeeding lullaby (Duermente, nenu—Go to sleep my boy)…which for all the world sounded like little falling stars—I was completely hooked.
Full marks to the performers. Señor Pixan, clearly somewhat more “mature” now than in the earlier CBS issue, nevertheless still possesses a very attractive lyric tenor, with few worn edges and plenty of warmth throughout the register. Rosa Torres-Pardo meanwhile is an admirable partner.
Indeed the only possible drawback I can point to is the lack of texts, which would have been a bonus, but at least their omission is for a genuine reason, and Ramon Avello does give a brief synopsis of each song.
Gentle reader, I have been a MusicWeb reviewer for a couple of years now, and whilst not among its most prolific contributors, I have nevertheless covered a significant number of recordings in that time. Not only has this issue been a considerable discovery—an increasing rarity in itself considering the onward march of Father Time—but it’s also the most sheerly enjoyable CD I have considered so far.
To this end it has returned to the tray of my CD player more frequently than any other review copy I can recall. Indeed…it is there now as I write, with the sounds of Pixan’s plaintive tenor bidding farewell to his beloved water nymph (Adios, xana)…and it sounds…marvellous! To paraphrase a famous quote: “Hats off Gentlemen, a winner!”