Jean-Jacques Kantorow

Lorenzo Palomo: Cantos del alma; Sinfonía a Granada

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The genius of Spanish nationalism in the early twentieth century was that it seemed to mesh with modern ideals, primarily French ones, rather than standing at an opposite pole. The impulses thus generated have lasted for a century now, and they're tweaked but not altered fundamentally in this pair of works by contemporary Spanish composer Lorenzo Palomo. He has found success in the U.S. and the rest of continental Europe, as well as in Spain, and from this pair of works it's easy to see why. Especially effective is the Sinfonía a Granada for soprano, guitar, and orchestra (there is also a narrator), composed in 2007 in response to a commission from the Regional Government of Granada specifying that the work should help "to establish bonds of union and brotherhood between the people of the different territories of our province." Whether an orchestral composition can do this is debatable; Palomo appears to have met this requirement with texts by poet Luís García Montero (who is also the narrator) describing scenes from around the region. The music itself uses the rich heritage of flamenco guitar and other Andalusian materials in a way that will seem familiar to audiences yet lies quite a distance removed from the great Spanish standards. Palomo atomizes the material and his ensemble, using, for example, flamenco rhythms in the Dance of Sacromonte movement (track 9) in fully recognizable guise but with the addition of irregularities and details that force the listener to hear them in modern structural terms. The Cantos del alma (2002) are written for the combination of soprano, clarinet, and orchestra, inspired by Schubert's song "The Shepherd on the Rock"; the orchestral textures are once again mostly sparse, with the focus remaining on the solo parts. Soprano María Bayo (Austrian, not Spanish) has a voice of just the right size for this music; the City of Granada Orchestra under the versatile Jean-Jacques Kantorow has the moves of this music down cold; in general it's hard to think of a way the performance could have been substantially improved. In general, Palomo produces something consistently lively and interesting even while working under rather strict constraints. Enjoyment for many listeners will be hampered by the absence of printed texts; they appear on a Naxos website that proved inaccessible on multiple attempts.

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