Falla: Songs and piano music

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Falla
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Songs and piano music
PERFORMER: Merlyn Quaife (soprano), Len Vorster (piano), Anthony Field (guitar), Ben Dickinson (percussion)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554498
Most of the music here is obviously ‘Spanish’, featuring real or imagined local melodies and dancing rhythms. Just like Falla’s most famous large-scale pieces – and at odds with his mature idiom, which distilled and transfigured the regional flavours, and emerges in a few items.

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As the programme unfolds, it becomes a perplexing mix of essential Falla and early or minor pieces that belong in a complete edition. How often can you hear his feeble March of the Gnomes? Yet it follows the unlikely magnificence of his ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’ arrangement, a searing build-up of invented modes and harmonic speculation. The stronger the music, the better Len Vorster plays, reaching a peak of intensity in the Dukas memorial piece, though to be fair, relaxed charm is the way to deal with Falla’s fusions of Chopin accompaniments and Iberian tunes.

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He sets a furious pace through the Seven Spanish Popular Songs, which Merlyn Quaife delivers with fine vocal control, mezzo-ish tone, substantial vibrato and more energy than passion. The Cantares de nochebueno are simply harmonised folksongs, using guitar and percussion, brief and unvaried in their triple-time pulse. All fine enough, but not so brilliant that it’s a must-have. Robert Maycock