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GRAMOPHONE (08/2015)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch

As the booklet-notes for this engaging disc point out, opera didn’t really catch on in 17th-century Spain, despite the efforts of a few enthusiasts. That description doesn’t really do Juan Hidalgo justice, however: the songs recorded here have charm and distinction, and his collaborations with the playwright Pedro Calderón (including a song on this recording) resulted in several experiments that might have been taken further. The backbone of the performances is the vividly detailed work of the Accademia del Piacere, to whom several instrumental pieces are entrusted. Arranged by the ensemble’s director, Fahmi Alqhai, these reinterpret otherwise familar ground basses in a way that sounds fresh and original.


The star turn here is arguably the tenor Juan Sancho, who seems to me to capture – and this is intended as a compliment – the rather unattractive persona of the enamoured Spanish hidalgo (the word, also the composer’s surname, meaning ‘noble’), studiedly languid, arrogant and histrionically self-pitying in the face of rejection. Portraying that persona is not without risk, and it took me a couple of runs through the disc to appreciate it. (Our times, hypocritically, feign a dislike of posturing.) Occasionally, the mask slips and the hidalgo’s disdainful swagger is revealed (as in Trompicávalas Amor or Ay que me río de amor), but before long he’s his old self-involved self (did I mention that he’s really hard to like?). While the music may never win him the sympathy of any but the confirmed narcissist, it keeps everyone else listening, all disbelief suspended. As an essay in characterisation, this is superb. The recitative Rompa el aire in suspiros offers a poignant glimpse of what might have been had the Spanish nobles taken opera to their collective bosom.



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