Albeniz – again

Three blogs on Isaac Albeniz in this series might be thought excessive, but here’s a fourth, for I have been listening to his opera ‘Merlin’, (referred to on June 27th. 2005). This splendid performance, recorded by Decca in Madrid, is the result of much research and advocacy by the conductor on these discs, Jose de Eusebio. I noticed the boxed set as I looked through some of the CD’s in our local library and felt duty bound to hear what I had previously in ignorance written about.

Jacinto Torres writes in the booklet that accompanies the two discs, ‘There is in Merlin not only the harmonic richness, varied modulation and rhythmic grace shared by his piano works of the same period….but also a rich display of subtlety and imagination in tonal quality and textures and in the dynamic contrasts’.

I find it most attractive, confident music, with some wonderful orchestration, flexible rhythms, lyrical scoring for the strings and bouncy brass, and have been playing it a lot.

It’s a work of some genius considering the story line and libretto Albeniz had to work with, which is full of cod medievalisms. One example, part of a chorus in Act 3 : ‘ For Maytime, merry Maytime, is prankt with greens and yellows, and bird with bird enfellows, by night-time, by day-time; new love to marriage mellows.’ Albeniz was very fortunate in having Francis Burdett Money Coutts as his mentor; pity that the deal involved setting his awful words to music as well!

Albeniz was influenced not only by his French connections but also by his enthusiasm for the music of Wagner. There is a swirling Wagnerian grandeur about this work, but I heard pre-echoes of Elgar as well. The performance is fine with particularly good singing from the baritone Carlos Alvarez who takes the name part. Placido Domingo is perhaps not in his best voice, but the score is very demanding and a lot of it is uncomfortably high, even for tenor and soprano.

In addition this largely Spanish cast must have had some difficulty with the English text, though if they didn’t understand it too well it could have been an advantage! The Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid is in excellent form, and the warm acoustic of the Auditorio Nacional de Madrid adds to the pleasure of the recording.

Do get to hear it if you can.