Spanish Heat and Passion Brighten a Cold, Wet Cardiff

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Antonio de Literes, Blas de la Serna, Ferenando Obradors, Bizet, Turina: Clara Mouriz (mezzo), Joseph Middleton (piano). Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff. 1.3.2016. (GPu)

Clara Mouriz

Antonio de Literes (1673-1747) – Confiado Jiguerillo (from Acis y Galatea)

Blas de la Serna (1751-1816) – El Trípili

Fernando Obradors (1897-1945) – Tres Morillas: Del cabello más sutil, El vito, La maja dolorosa, I, II & III

Georges Bizet (1838-1875) – Guitare, Adieux de l’l’hôtesse arabe, Ouvre ton cœur

Joaquín Turina (1882-1949) – Poema en forma de canciones

Spanish-born Clara Mouriz has a fine mezzo voice, strong across the range and capable of a lustrous tonal beauty. On stage she had a charismatic presence, elegantly dressed (and blessed with a radiant smile). Joseph Middleton is a brilliant accompanist – his evident qualities further evidenced by the roll call of singers who have chosen to work with him (it includes Ian Bostridge, Sir Thomas Allen, Iestyn Davies, Christopher Maltman, Mark Padmore, Amanda Roocroft and Ailish Tynan). This lunchtime recital of ‘Spanish songs’ (i.e. written by Spanish composers or, in the case of Bizet, making conscious use of Spanish idioms) brought a welcome illusion of Spanish sun to a cold, wet Cardiff day.

They began their recital with a version for voice and piano of ‘Confiado Jiguerillo’ from the zarzuela Acis y Galatea of 1708 by Antonio de Literes (whose name is sometimes given as Antoni Lliteres Carrío (there is an attractive recording of the whole work by Al Ayre Español on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77522 2. The whole tradition of the zarzuela remains seriously underappreciated in the UK.). Mouriz sang the piece with unforced expressivity and a convincing sense of eighteenth-century style. Middleton’s work at the piano was beautifully supportive (despite the temporary absence of his page-turner, for whom no chair had been provided on stage!).

Blas de la Serna’s ‘El Trípili’ comes, I think, from another work for the stage, El Desegnanado (I am only remembering something I was once told in Salamanca, when I heard a version sung by a local choir). The distinctively Spanish rhythms of the piece were very marked in this performance, not least in Middleton’s work at the piano and Ms. Mouriz sang with more than a hint of Spanish folk-phrasing. The whole was powerful and beautiful.

I was relatively unfamiliar with the three songs by Obradors and though Ms. Mouriz’s diction was excellent, my Spanish wasn’t up to following all the details of the sung texts. Unfortunately the free programme provided contained neither texts nor translations. The first ‘Del cabello más sutil’ expresses the lover’s desire to draw the beloved nearer by making a chain of her hair to draw her to his side. Whether or not one understood the text, the sense of passionate desire was very successfully communicated by the colours and rhythms of singer and pianist.  I realised that I had previously heard the second, ‘El Vito’, in a recording by Teresa Berganza. It is a measure of the quality of Clara Mouriz’s singing that she can sustain such a comparison very well. The title refers to a dance traditionally performed by a woman on a table in a tavern, to an audience of bullfighters! Middleton produced an utterly plausible ‘version’ of Spanish guitar on the piano and the singing of Clara Mouriz had more than a touch of cante jondo about it! This was perhaps the high spot of the recital. Mouriz’s reading of the three short songs that form of ‘La maja dolorosa’ had a distinctly Spanish cry deep within it – a note of utter authenticity!

Talking of in/authenticity, I flatter myself that even without the name of the composer being provided, I would have suspected that the three songs by Bizet did not come from the pen of a Spanish composer. Their imitation of Spanish mannerisms is accomplished, but remains an imitation, rather than the real thing! The texts (by Victor Hugo in the first two cases and by Louis Delâtre in the third) would, in any case, be a giveaway – not because they are in French but because they lack the sensual imagery of Spanish poetry. In all three cases, however, Middleton and Mouriz performed the songs with absolute conviction and commitment and made about as good a case for them as I have ever encountered (I have only previously heard them in recorded form). Indeed Mouriz inhabited both ‘Guitare’ and ‘Adieux’ so absolutely that I am tempted to say that she made them sound better than they actually are!

The ‘Spanishness’ of Bizet’s songs may sound somewhat ‘manufactured’, but the songs of Turina could not sound more naturally Spanish. For all his studies in Paris (from 1905 to 1914) and his friendship with Debussy, the best of Turina’s music is soaked in Spanish (and specifically Andalusian) musical traditions.

Poema en forma de canciones, written in 1918, is in essence a kind of eight-minute song cycle, made up of a piano introduction (‘Dedicatoria’) and four songs (‘Nunca olvida…’ ‘Cantares’, ‘Los dos miedos’, and ‘Las locas por amor’). All the songs set poems by Ramón

‘Dedicatoria’ corresponds, in some respects, to the guitarist’s introduction to a performance by an Andalusian folk-singer, introducing the mood and some of the musical materials. Turina’s writing in this ‘Dedicatoria’ is a brilliant ‘translation’ of that kind of guitar music and was superbly played by Joseph Middleton; in ‘Nunca olvida…’ (‘Never forget…’) the protagonist, seemingly at the approach of death, finds she can forgive those she has hated, but not the man she loved. The power and beauty of the bottom end of Ms. Mouriz’s voice were startlingly effective here. In ‘Cantares’ (‘Songs’), it was the top end of the voice which dazzled, in this superb song (inhabited to perfection by this fine singer) which is both despairing and celebratory, starting and finishing with an almost violent cry. ‘Los dos miedos’ (‘The Two Fears’), speaks both of the fear of the lover’s proximity and of his absence, in a song with some beautiful piano writing, not least in the limpid rippling of its introduction, and the mini-sequence (which for all its brevity ranges across many of the complexities of love) closes with ‘Las locas por amor’ (‘Women mad for love’), in which a powerful effect is created by the juxtaposition of a rather jaunty accompaniment with a text which values even brief love provided that the lover commits himself ‘con locura’ (madly) and insists that ‘todas las mujeres’ (‘all women’) feel the same. The song got a performance of fitting intensity.

Glyn Pursglove

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