Kazuki Yamada continues his series of glorious recordings for Pentatone with this wonderful disc of music by Manuel de Falla. I was thrilled to see they play the entire Three Cornered Hat ballet, rather than just the dance suites. So much delightful music is excised in the suites that I can never see the point. The complete ballet is delightful from beginning to end and my deepest thanks go out to all involved here for playing it complete. More on this in a moment.
First up we hear what is surely the most glorious and convincing performance ever of Nights in the Gardens of Spain. The pianist is Mari Kodama (a new name to me) and she plays beautifully. The piano writing is not difficult and should not present a challenge to any competent pianist. Kodama brings much musicality and legato phrasing to her part. And Yamada everywhere displays his usual gifts of colorful, richly textured orchestral tonalities to the score. He moves things along nicely, never allowing the music to drag (which is so often the case in this piece) and the piece is transformed into a much more coherent, expertly crafted musical expression. In Yamada's hands, this piece simply radiates the rich, sweet perfume of a Spanish garden.
The ballet brings similar characteristics. Once again, Yamada's richly upholstered and supremely colorful orchestra tonalities, combined with his ability to air out densely scored textures, bring rare rewards. Inner details become an important part of the compositional structure and thus involve the listener in a way not often encountered. Yamada definitely excels at this, rather than whipping up excitement with vigorous articulation or fast tempos. Yet, he's never dull. Rather, he makes it all so very interesting and imaginative to listen to, drawing the listener into a completely immersive experience. His real gift is making his orchestra sound rich, blended and refined without causing it to lose its character. It's not the anonymous, homogenous, ho-hum sound we hear from so many of today's orchestras. No, Yamada's orchestra retains a clarity of texture and musical character which makes it a constant pleasure to listen to.
But ultimately, just a touch more fire and vigorous articulation (especially in the strings) would have elevated this performance to even greater heights - perhaps even to the coveted "best-ever" category. As good as Yamada is, he does not quite displace classic accounts from the likes of Ansermet or Dutoit (or even Tortellier), who bring an added zest and extrovert excitement to this music which are impossible to resist. But then again, none can match Pentatone's recorded sound afforded Yamada (more on this below).
The fillers are the Interlude and Dance from La Vida Breve and the obligatory "Ritual Fire Dance" from El Amor Brujo, both nicely done, but nothing really special. Again, here, a little more fire (no pun intended) would have been beneficial.
Finally, there is no denying this is absolutely some of the most superlative recorded sound ever experienced. Pentatone has mastered the art of recording a symphony orchestra and this disc is further evidence of it. I listen in 2-channel SACD sound (on a very high quality system) and this is among the best recorded sound I've yet heard in my home. Highly recommended.