Carlos Álvarez’ Superb La Monnaie Recital

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WP 2019 - 2CARLOS ÁLVAREZ: LIVE LA MONNAIE DE MUNT / LORCA: Canciones españolas Antiguas. ORTEGA: Romancero de la luna, luna Preciosa y el aire Memento Canción del jinete. PENELLA: Don Gil de Alcalá. TORROBA: Luisa Fernanda: Luche la fe por el triunfo; Ay, mi morena. SORIANO: El guitarrico: Suena guitarrico mio. SERRANO: La cancion del olvido: Junto al puente de la Peña. SOUTULLO: La del soto del parral: Los cantos alegres / Carlos Álvarez, bar; Rubén Fernández Aguirre, pno / IBS Classical 92016 (live: La Monnaie de Munt, Brussels, May 3, 2007)

This is a real rarity: a famous baritone who generally sings standard repertoire giving an unusual recital of Spanish songs. Those of Federico Garcia Lorca that open the program are closer in style to his normal fare, and Álvarez belts the first one (“Anda jaléo”) out in full-blooded style, but it suits the song. Like many Spanish singers, he has a bright tone, but he also has a very dark sound as well, reminiscent of Leonard Warren. In recent years his voice has picked up a wobble, but here, in 2007, it was only just beginning and was not particularly troublesome. In the second half of the second song, “Los mozos de Monleón,” he sings with exquisite tenderness. It also helps that his accompanist, Rubén Fernández Aguirre, is a lively yet sensitive pianist; in “Nana de Sevilla,” the pianist helps lead the baritone into some truly tender moments with his huge voice. “Zorongo” is close to being a cantos in the flamenco tradition, complete with handclaps.

Miguel Ortega’s music is a bit more modern in its use of harmonies despite being based on poems by Lorca, and here Álvarez sings even more sensitively. “Precioso y el aire,” from the composer’s Gypsy Ballads, also has some interesting harmonic twists despite its very lyrical and singable melodic line.

After the songs, we get a series of six arias from Spanish operas or zarzuelas by various composers, two of them from Federico Moreno Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda. These are right up Álvarez’ alley, so to speak, and he sings them with grand aplomb. The “Romanza de Vidal” from Luisa Ferranda seemed to me written more in a Romantic operatic vein than like the usual zarzuela style, and here the baritone shows off his breath control to fine effect. The brisk little aria from Soriano’s El guitarrico, on the other hand, sounds very zarzuela-like, as does “Junto al puente da la Peña” from Serrano’s La cancion del olvido.

The recital ends with the unusually long (five and a half minutes) “Los cantos alegres” from Soutullo’s La del soto del parral. In form, this seems to be somewhere between opera and zarzuela, though it leans more towards the latter.

Álvarez seems to have had, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, an unusually large voice for a Spanish baritone. Most of those I’m familiar with, like Emilio Sagi-Barba and Marcos Redondo, certainly had operatic-sized voices with good brilliance on top, but not this kind of heft, almost bass-baritonal in the lower register. Unfortunately, these are the kinds of voices that tend to blow out before too long, thus we are very fortunate to have Álvarez here in his glorious prime.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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