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Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, December 2006

Critic, composer, and conductor, Lionel Salter, wrote in a New Grove article on the zarzuela that it suffered throughout the 20th century by deterioration towards the musically "crude revue etch." In his estimation, only five composers worked to counter this influence: Amadeo Vives, Jose Serrano, Jose Maria Usandizaga, Federico Torroba, and Jesus Guridi, "who wrote a delicate score set in his native Basque country, El caserio."

Delicate is a good way to describe El caserio. It's a delightful score, filled with many refined touches of harmony and orchestration, some of them bringing to mind either the later scores of Puccini or the composer's training at the famous Schola Cantorum in Paris. (None of this requires the sacrifice of any Basque folk coloration, which is applied liberally throughout, but with discernment.) In such numbers as "Ella cumbre del monte," the haunting "Con alegria inmensa tu resolucion!" and the a cappella chorus "Nochesita de estrellas," Guridi also exhibits an introspective musical poetry that is rare to find in this vibrantly energetic genre. Not that it misses on liveliness, with the likes of the "Espatadantza" ("Sword Dance"), the sunny "Cancion de los Versolaris," and above all, the wildly exuberant quartet, "Con el trébole y el toronjil."

The plot itself is nothing special. Though written by the very successful and distinguished team of Federico Romero and Guillermo Fernandez-Shaw, it is one of several whose general outlines are regularly resuscitated among zarzuelas in much the same fashion Hollywood and Bollywood rewrite old movie favorites every few years. Santi, the local mayor of a Basque village, has raised the children of his two dead brothers as though they were his own. Now he wonders whether his nephew. Jose Miguel, and his niece, Ana Mari, wouldn't do well to marry, but he finds himself interested in marrying Ana Mari, too. In the end, much as you'd expect, he doesn't marry her; for money, position, and wealth all fail on stage before the amorous intentions of a youthful tenor.

The cast is good if not great, and to the manner born. Ana Rodrigo's light soprano is pleasant to the ear, though she applies too much chest in the lower register: something of a national trait, I think. Emilio Sanchez's sound is tight but attractive, while the second tenor lead, Felipe Nieto (a member. perhaps, of the famous family that produced Golden Age sopranos Angeles Otein and Ofelia Nieto?) actually possesses a more relaxed if smaller tone. He's partnered by Maria Jose Suarez, who produces a sturdy sound without evincing any understanding of the words. Juan Jose Mena leads at a relaxed but rhythmically well-defined pace. The Bilbao SO is generally accurate and always committed.

Vicente Sardinero (1937-2002) deserves a paragraph of his own. A fine, dark baritone with an exciting manner, lyrical line, and sure sense of theater, he was equally famed for his performances in zarzuela and opera. He made many albums of both, and one of my favorites is his subtle performance as Rabbi David in Mascagni's L 'amico Fritz (EMI Classics 67373). This was the last of his recordings, cut roughly a year before his death. As such, the voice no longer has the richness or evenness of Sardinero's youth, and the upper notes are unsteady. But the lower reaches of his role still reveal a firm core to the sound, and appreciable musicality. Arguably another, more youthful baritone would have been a wiser choice, but sometimes experience and national pride deserve a moment all their own.

Both singers and orchestra are given good, forward miking. Dialogue is eliminated, and the sung language is Castilian (as it was, in the original performances).

That aside, I have no problem with recommending El caseria to lovers of opera and zarzuela, alike. It only confirms what other releases in Naxos's Spanish series have previously demonstrated, that Guridi was an excellent composer who deserved international recognition. This beguiling work of his isn't about to leave my CD player, anytime soon, and it's made my Want List for 2006.

American Record Guide, December 2006

This new Naxos recording, complete, of the 1926 zarzuela El Caserio is the surprise operetta delight of 2006. This 80-year-old work shines anew in the label's first complete zarzuela CD, which has stayed next to my CD deck now for weeks.

I had always admired the score, by the Basque composer Jesus Guridi, from earlier recordings with singers like Pilar Lorengar and Manuel Ausensi (RCA) and Dolores Perez and Carlo del Monte (EMI), conducted by such specialists as Argenta and Moreno Torroba. I relished the mountain freshness of Guridi's scene-painting, the folk-like flavor of the vibrant dance rhythms, and the expansive choral work.

Although it has a pretty standard libretto by the principal zarzuela librettists of the 1920s and early 30s, Fernandez Shaw and Romero (not that this is a bad thing-they also wrote Vives's immortal Dona Francisquita!), I always felt that El Caserio (The Homestead, or Family Farm) sounded very different from other 20s zarzuelas. It's more mournfully atmospheric and enchanted-a sort of Basque Brigadoon. Although the story of El Caserio may not deal with a disappearing village, tiny Basque towns like Arrigori have undoubtedly disappeared by now. To further the Brigadoon analogy, the score even has a sword dance!

The new recording has a fine Spanish cast that makes it all sound startlingly new and, even more impressively, a chorus to knock your socks off-the Bilbao Choral Society, which is as Basquaise as you can get. The Bilbao Symphony makes the two spectacular preludes glisten, and you can see why these have been Spanish orchestral favorites on their own. The story, about a young, jai-alai playing ne'er-do-well who doesn't care to run the family estate, running into trouble with his uncle, is told through a series of memorable solos and ensembles that make their emotional points while following certain folk-music patterns and avoiding the fashionable shimmies and charlestons of the decade. (The recording does not bother us with the substantial dialog sections that were also prevalent in the 1920s.)

Guridi's lyricism is more north-of-the-border French than Spanish; he was a student of Vincent d'Indy, and one hears the Impression­ist composers in his superb orchestration of Basque-nationalist melodies. Some numbers have a Puccini-esque cast, like the famous duet beginning 'Buenos dias' in Act I, where the young couple-tenor Emilio Sanchez and soprano Ana Rodrigo-have a rapturous time. And Sanchez makes his aria in the second act, 'Yo no se que veo en Ana Mari' truly haunting.

Baritone Vicente Sardinero (who sang at the Metropolitan in the 1970s and who died after making this recording) does the "title" song, 'Sasibil, rni Caserio' beautifully and very movingly. The chorus has some of its strongest contributions in the extended finales, and I recommend turning down the lights to help give the illusion of the misty Basque country.

Curiously, El Caserio is not a title offered in the extensive Blue Moon series of original zarzuela 78-transfers from the 1920s and 30s on CD-I hope we'll be able to hear that some­day. But that scratchy, flat sound will never compete with the luxurious presence of this new Naxos recording from the Jesus Guridi Conservatory in Vitoria. The presentation does not include a Spanish-English libretto, but the extended synopsis helps.

The notes (by Santiago Gorostiza-surely a Basque name) carefully point out the folk underpinnings of the numbers and Guridi's use of native instruments with difficult-to-pronounce names like the txistu. However wistful and sad some of the music may sound, the end of the zarzuela is a celebratory one, with the lovers paired off in happy operetta fashion and the estate saved. A toast-however one says it in Basque-to this recording, with the hope that Naxos will follow it with many more zarzuela treasures, neglected or not.

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, November 2006

I also recommend Guridi’s zarzuela, El caserío (“The Homecoming”), for purchase… Its infectious energy, solid craftsmanship, and fund of fine melody are well worth your investigation.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, October 2006

Guridi’s “comedia lírica” El Caserío completed in 1926, actually a zarzuela, is the first of his several stage works composed on a libretto in Castilian. His first operatic works Mirentxu (1915) and Amaya (1920) actually used librettos in Basque, which suited their nationalistic subjects but also limited performances, even in Spain. The story is set in an imaginary village in the Basque province of Biscay, in the early 20th century. Sasibill is the homestead (“caserío”) of the local mayor Santi and of his niece and nephew Ana Mari and José Miguel. With them, lives a labourer Chomín, while Manú and Eustasia live in the cider-house with their daughter Inosensia for whom Eustasia tries to find a good match. Santi hopes that José Miguel, who loves the good things of life, will marry Ana Maria, with whose mother Santi was secretly in love years ago. Santi and some of his old friends intrigue to have José Miguel realise that he is in fact in love with Ana Mari. As may be expected, all is well that ends well, as befits a zarzuela.

Each of the three acts consists of a number of arias, duos and ensembles; and ends with a developed finale in which everyone joins. There is also a good deal of spoken dialogue, not recorded here; but a fully detailed synopsis usefully makes up for the absence of the spoken sections and of the sung texts. What matters, as far as I am concerned, is the music which is very fine, colourful, richly melodic and eminently singable. This release is already the fourth disc of Guridi’s music released by Naxos. Moreover, a recording of Guridi’s national drama Amaya is still available on Marco Polo 8.225084-5 although I have not yet heard it. If you have already heard any of these records, you will know what to expect. The regional setting is appropriately evoked either by Basque folk songs or by folk-like tunes. This element is to be heard clearly in several sections of the score, such as Con el trébole y el toronjil (act I – track 5), Pello Josephe (act II – track 9) and Canción de los Versolaris (act II – track 14). There are also some very fine arias and duos, of which Santi’s Romance (act I track 6) is particularly fine; the music has some echoes of Puccini. As befits a zarzuela, the music is generally simple and straightforward, but never simplistic. It encompasses a wide range of moods according to the events occurring on stage, and thus alternates romance, tenderness, humour and overt jollity. It also has some fine orchestral interludes, such as the beautifully atmospheric prelude to act I and the prelude to act 2, as well as some excellent choruses.

All concerned obviously enjoy the music, and everyone sings and plays with conviction. Soloists are extremely good and some minor parts are very nicely done indeed. The part played by the Bilbao Choral Society is worthy of a special accolade.

In short, this is an attractive piece of music that clearly deserves to be heard. Those who already know Guridi’s music will need no further recommendation. I am sure that others who love, say, Rodrigo’s or Turina’s music will find much to enjoy here. I certainly did.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, July 2006

When you hear this endearing zarzuela you'll wonder where it's been all these years! Guridi has outdone himself with this stage work about life and love in an imaginary Basque village. Based on catchy folk melodies and dance rhythms, there's never an insipid instant in this rustic romp, which is brimful of lilting arias and colorful choruses. The orchestral accompaniment is brilliantly scored and most would have to agree that the prelude to act 2 is a symphonic mini-masterpiece. The finales for each of its 3 acts are outstanding and guaranteed to move even the most jaded of listeners. Committed performances and good sound will assure this release a special place in the hearts of all light opera enthusiasts.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group