Patricia Petibon: "Melancolía: Spanish Arias and Songs"
by Granados, Montsalvatge, Nin, Villa-Lobos, Turina, Giménez, Falla, Simeón, Moreno Torroba, Gómez,
Saavedra, Bacri. Orquesta Nacional de España, Pons. Texts and translations. Deutsche Grammophon 477 9447
French soprano Patricia Petibon has clearly approached this collection of Spanish and Latin American repertoire as a serious project stemming from her great personal affection for the material — and her self-confessed "unconditional love" for the sound of the late Victoria de los Angeles. In interviews, Petibon has made it clear that she is approaching the selections with her own French sensibility, not trying "to mimic a Spanish identity, but to feel it without disguising what I am."
Taken on its own terms, the disc is a success. For this ambitious cross-section of Spanish vocal music, Petibon has attempted to find a variety of vocal colors, ranging from the refined to the raw. Because so much Spanish vocal music has its roots in folk song, the less operatic sound Petibon employs intermittently is justifiable, although the soprano sometimes ends up sounding affected — all in the name of "naturalness." A flamenco singer belting out "El vito" in chest voice is not the same as an opera singer affecting a less operatic sound by straightening her tone to hoot Nin's arrangement of the song in head voice. One cannot help feeling that if Petibon had taken a page from the book of the great de los Angeles — whose simplicity of delivery always put the music first — she might have served some of this material better.
Nonetheless, there is much to enjoy in Petibon's work in familiar excerpts, as well as in a new cycle composed especially for the soprano. Granados is well served in two of his maja-themed Tonadillas, deeply felt and delivered with the requisite emotional wallop, while Villa-Lobos's much-recorded aria from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 features instrumental vocal purity in the famous melody, juxtaposed with pathos in the text-based center section. Zarzuelas alsofigure in the program; the familiar "Zapateado," the tarantula number from Giménez's La Tempranica, is given a hyper-theatrical, hilarious performance, contrasted with Petibon's impassioned treatment of the gorgeous "Petenera" from Moreno Torroba's La Marchenera. In"Marinela, Marinela," from José Serrano Simeón's La Canción del Olvido, Petibon offers her most authentically Spanish-flavored vocalism.
Two of the best-known songs from Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge's Canciones Negras are also included. "Canto negro" is particularly enjoyable; the other, the haunting lullaby "Canción de cuna," leans toward the mannered, although Petibon's reading is tender. More direct is Turina's "Cantares," from Poema en Forma de Canciones, sung with welcome fullness and drive (although it should probably be noted that here, as in some of the other vocally bigger numbers on the disc, the soprano's vibrato audibly slows under pressure). Salud's aria "¡Vivan los que ríen!" from Falla's La Vida Breve, is one of the finest tracks on the disc — powerfully emotional and sung with abandon.
In keeping with the theme of the CD, the new cycle, set by French composer Nicolas Bacri to texts by Paris-based Colombian writer Alvaro Escobar-Molina, is entitled Melodías de la Melancolía. Its four songs offer Petibon persuasive vocal and interpretive opportunities. In "A la mar," the singer pours out a mournful melody over a haunting ostinato in the orchestra. "Silencio mi niño" is a lullaby with a sense of impending danger; "Hay quien dice," an emotionally naked lament on the madness of uncontrolled love, gives the soprano's exciting extreme upper range its only workout on the disc. Finally, the desolate "Sólo" leads back to the first song in circular fashion.
Accompaniments throughout the program are variously provided by the Orquesta Nacional de España under Josep Pons and in marvelous flamenco-flavored arrangements featuring Daniel Manzanas on guitar and Joël Grare on percussion. All are excellent.
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