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Phillip Scott
Fanfare, July 2009

Tomás Bretón (1850–1923) was a prolific composer of operas and zarzuelas, whose concert music is practically forgotten today. This welcome collection of overtures and the picturesque suite Andalusian Scenes helps to redress that situation, along with a Naxos CD of Bretón’s chamber music (8.570713)…Primarily, the tunes are catchy and the orchestrations effective, as one would expect from a successful theater composer. The Polo turns up again in a later arrangement for piano trio on the chamber CD, where it is given a more urgent, earthy rendition by the members of the LOM Piano Trio.

Among the opera selections, I was particularly taken with the imitative theme (trumpet, echoed by trombone) in the jogging Prelude to Garin, though it may be repeated once too often for comfort. These overtures contain a few moments of undistinguished throat clearing, amid memorable themes and passages of dance-driven excitement. The most notable examples of the latter are the jota concluding the prelude to La Dolores and a sardana (or round dance) in Garin.

En la Alhambra, which concludes the program, is a short tone poem and probably Bretón’s most popular concert work. It displays his lyrical gifts to good effect (as, indeed, does the lushly orchestrated saeta in the third of the Andalusian Scenes).

The performances shine under the baton of Miguel Roa, an experienced conductor of zarzuelas. Recording is full and present. The orchestra goes all out on the Rossinian storm effects (bass drum thwacks, etc.) in the Prelude to Los amantes de Teruel: 19th-century listeners would have been on the edge of their seats. In short, lots of fun.

Andrew Lamb
Gramophone, May 2009

Rare operatic excerpts complete a collection of alluring Iberian exoticism

For the second time in a few months Naxos devotes a CD to Tomas Bretón, best known for his opera La Dolores and zarzuela La verbena de la Paloma.The earlier collection (8.570713) included an arrangement for piano trio of the “Polo” that appears here in full orchestral garb as the second movement of the suite Escenas andaluzas.

This tunefully attractive piece of highly perfumed exoticism and alluring Spanish rhythms deserves wider appreciation. The performance here may lack the magic of Ataulfo Argenta’s 1950s recording (Medici Classics);but Miguel Roa is more successful in his delicate delineation of the other piece of “alhambrismo” in the collection, the single-movement Enfa Alhambra.

These items have been recorded in various forms previously, including historic recordings by Enrique Fernandez Arbos recently reissued on Dutton. However, the various operatic excerpts offer welcome novelty. The Prelude to La Dolores will already be familiar from the Decca recording with Domingo but those to Guzman el bueno and Los amantes de Teruel are impressively developed symphonic pieces that make excellent additions to the catalogue…this is a collection well worth acquiring.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, April 2009

Highly esteemed in his lifetime, though sadly neglected since, Bretón built an enviable reputation on the theatrical music that he composed between 1875 and 1896. The Preludes to four of his zarzuelas are included on this disc. They take the form of little symphonic poems which tell the story of the opera in just a few moments of romantic and elegantly scored music…this new CD gives us more of an indication as to where Bretón was going in his plans to introduce an original, nationalistic opera. In doing so he evolved a nationalistic style pre-empting Granados, Albeniz and de Falla by only a few years. One could say that Breton was the father of this great school of Spanish composers.

Of the opera preludes, the one to ‘Los Amantas de Teruel’ is the most immediately interesting. It encapsulates a powerful and lyrical section for the lovers, a battle scene and their meeting in Heaven—all compressed into just over ten minutes…The longest and most interesting work on this disc is the ‘Escenas andaluzas’ (Andalucian Scenes). This is a four movement tone picture. Bretón spent much of his life (from 1885) as an orchestral conductor in Madrid. There he composed, as well as operas and zarzuelas, three symphonies. He was an experienced orchestrator and these skills of orchestral familiarity emerge fully in this the best work here. One can sense that apart from its intrinsic attractions it is building a foundation for the music of Albeniz and de Falla. It opens with a colourful ‘Bolero’. A ‘Polo’ uses an evocative oboe solo over string pizzicatos to conjure a steamy outdoor guitar. The next ‘Marcha y saeta’ is a slightly comic, processional march set in Holy Week. Its middle section uses the cor anglais to intone a quasi-plainchant saeta—a devotional song. Finally another Andalucian dance—a lively ‘Zapateado’—brings the piece to a happy conclusion. I enjoyed the work tremendously. It made me want to get back to that wonderful part of the world as soon as possible.

…The orchestral detail is well captured and fine points like harp glissandi and castanets can be heard clearly. The strings are well forward and they carry the main weight of the music. Anyway this generally undemanding music offers them few challenges. Miguel Roa steers them around the occasional tricky corners with alacrity.

‘En la Alhambra’ which ends the CD is a charming, elegant and slightly exotic single movement piece. It is lightly scored and has the air of an escapee from Carmen. It was very popular at the time and still has a certain if somewhat muted atmosphere.

John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, March 2009

It is hard not to feel some sympathy with composers whose output is largely forgotten apart from a single work; even more so with those whose output is wholly forgotten. It is therefore very welcome that even in these straitened times Naxos continues to issue recordings of the lesser known works of such composers.

I have listened recently with great pleasure to their issue of the Symphony by Ruperto Chapí [CHAPI: Symphony in D minor/Fantasia morisca (Madrid Community Orchestra, Encinar) 8.572195], Bretón’s great rival—they shared the composition prize at the Madrid Conservatory in 1872. It is appropriate that they should now provide an opportunity for us to compare it with the orchestral music of Bretón.

Bretón is best known for a single work—the one Act zarzuela “La Verbena de la Paloma” of 1894. Christopher Webber in “The Zarzuela Companion” describes it as perhaps the greatest zarzuela of all. I therefore approached the present disc with considerable interest. I was not disappointed. The first item—the “Escenas Andaluzas” (Andalusian Scenes)—is described as popular, although I must admit to not having heard it before, and previous recordings are not thick on the ground. It is a suite in four movements—Bolero, Polo, Marcha y saeta and Zapateado. Each is full of colour and the kind of rhythms and textures that non-Spaniards at least associate with Spain. It is in every way comparable to similar music by Massenet, Bizet and others. Indeed it is arguable that their works sound—again, to a non-Spaniard—more likely to have originated in the country. At times the orchestration and working out here has a heavier feel to it, although not to the music’s detriment. The movements are all varied and colourful, and it would be good to have the chance of hearing it in the concert hall one day. In the meantime this well recorded and idiomatically played disc is very welcome. The symphonic serenade En la Alhambra is similar in character and also well worth hearing.

The Preludes to four of Bretón’s operas are all interesting and pleasurable works, even if what we hear does not seem to bear much relation to the descriptions in the otherwise helpful notes by Victor Sánchez Sánchez. The opera Garin, for instance, apparently has a story very similar to that of Tannhäuser, and Los Amantes de Terurel concerns a tragic love story and is said to have a Prelude summarizing the musical tensions of that story. The mixture of styles, from the kind of dramatic gesture we might associate with, say, Litolff, Lortzing or Sullivan, to Spanish-style textures and melodies not dissimilar to those in the Suite, is nonetheless very winning.

All in all, this is a very attractive disc that will suit anyone with a taste for the more colourful music of this period or a more general interest in the music of Spain. Fortunately we can enjoy the music of both Chapí and Bretón without feeling any need to take sides between them.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2008

Spain’s most prolific and leading opera composer of the 19th century, the highly pleasing music of Tomas Breton is now almost totally unknown. Born in 1850, his mission was to integrate aspects of Spanish music into the style of mainstream opera from Germany and Italy. If the four preludes included on this disc are indicative of the operas that followed, it was a task he must have achieved to a large degree. It includes the admirable introduction to La Dolores, one of the most highly regarded operas during his lifetime, and where early Verdi was the guiding hand. It would also be Verdi who comes to mind in the overture to the tragic love story, Los amantes de Teruel, the story’s happier times reflected in the charming opening section. The Prelude and Sardana—a Spanish round dance—from Garin, was a score supposedly influenced by his love of Wagner, though Nicolai would be nearer the mark. He also worked as a highly regarded conductor, but without further knowledge of his considerable output as a composer, the suite Escenas andaluzas, would indicate that he was well equipped to work in lighter musical realms, a notion continued into his symphonic serenade En la Alhambra, where the magical aspects of Granada are pictured in a score of finely spun colours, the piece ending in a quiet dance. Miguel Roa directs a very responsive Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid, their playing pleasing though the engineers gave a very boomy sound to lower instruments in the Escenas andaluzas.

David Hurwitz, December 2008

Tomás Bretón isn’t going to win any awards for originality, but his music is delicious. If you like all the usual late-Romantic “Spanishisms”—clicking castanets, glittering harps, melismatic oboe solos, and prowling modal bass lines, then you’ll love this stuff. Escenas andaluzas has four very colorful movements and sounds a bit like early Turina, or a couple of lost bits of Iberia. The same goes for En la Alhambra, a soulful seven minutes of colorful orchestration and graceful melody. It’s really a bit of a mystery that this music isn’t better known; certainly it deserves repertory status.

The opera preludes also are very attractive; that from Los amantes de Teruel is a very substantial piece indeed, more than 10 minutes long and broodingly atmospheric. However, it’s the Sardana from Garin that’s the most fun. Its main theme, for solo trumpet and trombone, sounds like a Spanish take on Yellow Submarine, and it’s every bit as catchy. The Madrid orchestra hasn’t quite the opulence in the string section that the more effusive moments in Escenas andaluzas demand, but it plays very well under Miguel Roa, and the sonics have plenty of clarity and a nice, rich bass. A very fine release, highly recommended.

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