Albéniz: Pepita Jiménez

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Albeniz
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Albéniz
WORKS: Pepita Jiménez
PERFORMER: Carol Vaness, Plácido Domingo, Jane Henschel, Enrique Baquerizo, Carlos Chausson; Orquesta y Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid/José De Eusebio
CATALOGUE NO: 477 6234

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Once again, following Merlin, Plácido Domingo fronts the pioneering efforts of conductor José De Eusebio in an Albéniz revival. These operas were vanity deals with a patron, the English amateur poet Francis Burdett Money-Coutts. Albéniz received from Coutts’s banking activities an income he couldn’t refuse, and had to set his libretti in return. Pepita Jiménez, based on a popular novel of love and deception in Andalucia, was the nearest to a success. Coutts’s condensed version features some dramatic lacunae – Act I ends in the threat of a duel, of which no more is heard – as well as a cringe-making Victorian literary style like WS Gilbert without the humour (‘Where is that garçon?/Gone for a parson’). The words are set with astounding fidelity to their cadences and rhythms, so that the orchestra, with due nods to Massenet and verismo, carries much of the melodic development. Albéniz surprisingly conjures up a big finish all the more effective for the prevailing delicacy. Domingo’s character is a study in doubt and denial, sung with characteristic concentration, ready to rise to his two peak moments. Pepita herself, intimating the Merry Widow crossed with Thaïs, lures him from his religious calling in a sparky role that Teresa Berganza once put her mark on. Carol Vaness makes heavy weather, and most of the cast tackle the English language with impressive diction at the expense of verve. There’s a delicious cameo for children’s chorus, but the main stars are the orchestra, fluent under De Eusebio’s guidance.

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Robert Maycock