Whenever I see or hear the name of French composer and conductor Manuel Rosenthal (1904-2003), I Gaîté Parisienne Rosenthal put together in 1938 from bits and pieces of Offenbach’s works. I also think of the several recordings Rosenthal made of the ballet, especially the one he did for EMI late in his life. But I don’t think of things like El Amor Brujo or Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), the two numbers we get on this remastered HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) HQCD. Rosenthal recorded the music in the late 1950’s for Westminster, and HDTT took the present copy from a Westminster 4-track tape. I had never heard the recording before, and I don’t believe Westminster or anybody else ever released it on CD until HDTT came along. Since both the performances and sound are worth hearing, one might view the HDTT disc as something of a godsend.think immediately of Jacque Offenbach and the celebrated ballet score
First up is El Amor Brujo (“Love, the Magician”), the rather grim tale of a dead, unfaithful husband haunting his former wife and her new lover. The woman’s gypsy friends help her get rid of the ghost through a “Ritual Fire Dance.” Falla presents the story as a pantomime divided into three major parts for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, thirteen sections in all, each with its own track on the disc.
Rosenthal had a good feeling for the idiom, catching most of the color, excitement, and romanticism of the music. He maintains a strong rhythmic pulse throughout, yet never pushes the tempos or contrasts too far in any direction. He also brings out the rich textures in Falla’s tunes as well as almost anybody. There were times, it’s true, when I thought Carlo Maria Giulini in his justly praised EMI recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra sounded a touch warmer and more loving, but Rosenthal seems a degree more thrilling, making Giulini appear a little too refined. Regardless, it’s close.
If anything, Rosenthal’s way with Nights in the Gardens of Spain is even more compelling, or maybe I just like the music more. Here, Falla created a set of three nocturnes for piano and orchestra, each of them depicting a Spanish garden, the music characterizing the type of flora found there. This is some of the most descriptive, evocative music ever written, taking its cue from Debussy as much as anyone. Falla wrote a sumptuous score, and Rosenthal and Westminster did it full justice.
Westminster originally released the recording in 1959, and HDTT remastered it, as I said, from a 4-track tape. It sounds quite fine in its newly minted form, as we expect from this source. Burning the recording to an HQCD no doubt helps to retain most of the remastering’s luster. The highs are a tad brighter than I expected but quite realistic in their definition and transient response. The midrange is smooth, natural, and transparent. Bass shows up commendably taut and no doubt represents what Westminster initially captured. Orchestral depth is moderate, and Ms. De Pruliere’s voice seems appropriately lifelike. Although the miking places the piano in Nights a bit forward, it’s OK because it sounds so brilliantly crisp. Most of all, though, the dynamic range is wide, and the impact is impressive. I liked it a lot.
To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
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