Lecuona Love Songs - GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE
A beautifully recorded recital of Lecuona's delightful love songs
It is curious to think that Paul Hindemith and Ernesto Lecuona were almost exact contemporaries, born a couple of months apart in 1895 and dying within five weeks of each other at the end of 1963. Yet despite this closeness in time their music had no real common ground. Hindemith was no mean song-writer, though not especially prolific, unlike the Cuban Lecuona for whom song was a paramount form of expression: he wrote around 400 of them.
For this recording Carole Farley undertook - according to Jose Serebrier's booklet notes - a protracted detective hunt through libraries, publishers, basements and packing cases to arrive at her selection of 25 love songs. Hers is a fine and varied choice, highlighting Lecuona's undeniable gifts as a melodist and word-setter, ranging between the overtly romantic - as in the opening "Siempre en mi Corazon" ('Always in my heart') and "Primavera de Illusion" ('Spring of Illusion') - to fast and lively songs such as "Que risa me da" ('Oh, what a laugh') and "Conga Cuba". In between these are more lilting songs such as "Como presiento" ('The feeling I have') and "Amor Tardio" ('Belated love'), directly Latin numbers such as "Allá en la sierra" ('High in the Sierra') and the dramatic, scena-like Canción del Amor Triste.
Carole Farley sings all the songs with great finesse and warmth of feeling. She is accompanied with sympathy by the excellent John Constable whose playing is a model of precision yet catches that feeling of improvisation that is an essential part of these songs. The recording is wonderfully pure and clear.
Lecuona Love Songs
"... easily the best ever all-Lecuona song album on CD"
Considering that the Cuban Ernesto Lecuona's fame is squarely based on the twin pillars of his piano and vocal pieces, surprisingly few records have been wholly devoted to the songs. Anthologised versions of the most popular-"Siboney", "Malaguena" a.k.a. "The Breeze and I"-crop up in more or less glutinous orchestral garb, too often served up in flyblown, operatic style. Following the composer's own practice, many come rehashed as piano transcriptions, with Spanish or English titles which may or may not tally with the originals.
In the face of these starvation rations, all the more reason to be grateful to BIS for providing us with such a good helping of Cuban Canción lirica. Following on from their 5-CD set of piano music, the Swedish label gives us an album of 25 songs, artfully turned by American soprano Carole Farley with pianist John Constable. Lecuona's range will come as a pleasant surprise to anyone who expects a surplus of languorous habaneras and the tristeza del amor found in many of his most popular numbers, such as "Siempre en mi corazón." Farley quarried the publisher's archives to seek out rarities, many from stage shows, some previously unrecorded, to vary the mood. There's teasing wit ("!No es por ti!"), a truculent complaint about the impossibility of "translating" Rumba abroad ("Que risa me da"), and a valedictory Conga ("Cuba mia, dime adiós") to add Afro-Cuban spice to the mix. Some, notably the broodingly sensual "Canción del Amor Triste" are of a depth to move us to tears. Few composers have portrayed the pain of frustrated passion more intensely.
Carole Farley is very famous for her serpentine Lulu in Berg's opera. Initially a vampish "Siempre en mi corazón" provokes doubts that she might be coming on too hard. Too much of a good thing perhaps. But once Farley settles she focuses her resources to marvelous effect. Every song brings fresh evidence of high-level artistry in a contemporary style, and as one track tempts us into the next the pleasure deepens. She sings the powerful "Dame de tus rosas" to the manner born and seamlessly. Constable sounds equally at home. His flexible accompaniments catch that improvisatory air which Lecuona himself brought to his work with Montaner, Borja or Maruja Gonzalez, another of his famous "Cuban muses."
BIS provide full texts and translations. This new release on a modern mode which will bring much pleasure to old and young devotees of Lecuona's subtle art.
Lecuona Love Songs
Few singers-few musicians in any branch of the art, for that matter-can have ranged with comparable expertise over so wide a range of repertoire as the American soprano Carole Farley. From Monteverdi and Mozart to Shostakovich and Berg (she took the title role of the first British production of Lulu), from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony by way of Offenbach and Grieg and Lehar's Merry Widow to Poulenc and Kurt Weill and the music of her husband, composer-conductor Jose Serebrier, taking in Verdi, Puccini, Massenet, Strauss, Ives and Aubert Lemeland along the way, and recently adding an exceptional disc of Ned Rorem songs, she has performed and recorded opera, oratorio, and song with commanding vocal fluency, dramatic flair, and an astonishing linguistic versatility.
Now Carole Farley has turned her attention to the songs of the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963), with results that I find totally compelling. Rarely can her warm yet brilliant voice have been in better state. With ravishing floating high notes and pleasant Hispanic tones lower down in the range, she has crafted in "On a Night Like This" a most romantic and seductive album, atmospherically recorded by producer Rita Hermeyer. So far as versatility is concerned, the British pianist John Constable is himself no slouch. Associated in my mind with more cerebral activities (performing Gorecki and Knussen in his capacity as principal keyboard player for the London Sinfonietta, or providing stylish concerto solos and continuo contributions in Bach, Handel and Vivaldi as a regular collaborator with the Academy of St, Martin in the Fields), he turns himself here into a cogent exponent of Lecuona's trademark sensual languor in slow tempos and rhythmic verve in faster ones.
To such ends, the selection and ordering of numbers out of the composer's 400 songs has been artfully done. Instead of a facile alternation of moods, Farley and Constable have chosen to present the songs in little groups of two or three at a time that harmonize emotionally with each other. Thus, for instance, the candid diatonic beauty of the refrain in "Allá en la sierra" is so placed as both to illuminate and to contrast with the insinuating chromaticism of the next song, "Tu no tienes Corazon". (That last word, by the way, is as pervasive in Lecuona's world as its German equivalent, "Herz," is in Schubert's.) Again, the quicksilver syncopations of "Que risa me da" lead tellingly into "La comparsa", an evocative mood-piece in which eruptive rhythms darkly subvert the surface glitter of the carnival procession. Incidentally, two songs "Mira!" and "Devuelveme el Corazon" are rather puzzlingly listed with texts by Jose Serebrier. I found out on inquiry that they have survived only with English words, so Serebrier has made a skillful job of creating new Spanish lyrics for them. As a representative of his country's musical culture, Lecuona may not offer the scope and depth that distinguish, say, Ginastera among the composers of Argentina. But this collection makes a strong case for him as a master, and a richly varied master at that, of the romantic song, and I cannot imagine how it could have been better done.
"Carole Farley sings them all with affection, emotional conviction, and that rarest commodity: charm. Possessing a sultry voice that is ideal for the idiom, she sings with rhythmic freedom and flexibility"
Ernesto Lecuona crossed the line between popular and classical music with an ease and naturalness that is utterly beyond the frantic efforts of most contemporary "crossover" composers. He wrote over 400 songs and, as this engaging album illustrates, they fuse Latin American, Spanish, and jazz elements with consummate lyricism. The skillfully constructed piano part sets the tone of a given number immediately and sustains it.
Given that Lecuona was a virtuoso pianist (praised by Ravel, among others), the quality of the piano writing is not surprising. What is startling is the strength and constant inventiveness of the melodies: from the languorous sensuality of "Always in my Heart" to the operative rhetoric of "Canción del Amor Triste", these nostalgic tunes with their dusky Latin harmonies linger in the memory. Some, like the delicate, soaring "Carnival Procession", are standards; but most will be unfamiliar even to those who love Latin American music.
Carole Farley, who found many of these songs in abandoned drawers that had not been opened for decades, unearths material that has never been distributed, let alone recorded. She sings them all with affection, emotional conviction, and that rarest commodity: charm. Possessing a sultry voice that is ideal for the idiom she sings with rhythmic freedom and flexibility, but never hypes a song or strains for effect. Pianist John Constable offers atmospheric support and a wide range of colors. The recording, made at the former Academy of Music in Stockholm, has plenty of warmth and resonance. This is a delightful release, and an important one.