> Songs from Latin America [CH]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)

Modinhas e Canções: Canção do Marinheiro, Lundú da Maqueza de Santos, Cantilena, A Gatinha Parda, Nhapopé. Evocação
Carlos GUASTAVINO (1912-2000)

La Rosa y el Sauce, Bonita Rama de Sauce, Se equivocó la Paloma
Modesta BOR (1926-1998)

Triptico sobre Poesia Cubana
Andres SAS (1900-1967)

Sei Cantos Indios del Peru
Ernesto LECUONA (1896-1963)

Canción del amor triste, Señor Jardinero, La señora Luna, Quiero ser hombre
Lucas ESTRADA (1938-1981)

Siempre, La Rosa y tu
Antonio Maria VALENCIA (1902-1952)

Tres dias hace que Nina dormida en su lecho está
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)

Cinco Canciones Popolares Argentinas
Marina Tafur (soprano), Nigel Foster (pianoforte)
Recorded St. Paul’s Church, New Southgate, London, date not given
LORELT LNT 112 [74.35]


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Marina Tafur comes from Colombia but having completed her studies at Bogotá Conservatoire she took further courses in Paris (with Pierre Bernac), Geneva and New York and has been resident in the UK for a number of years. She has directed the Abbotsbury Music Festival in Dorset since 1989. We hear immediately in the first Villa-Lobos piece that she has an interesting style of vocal production, basically without vibrato at all, but occasionally allowing long notes to vibrate. This creates a folkloristic, "uncultivated" sound, and in the lower-middle register a very beautiful sound. Up on Gs and A flats (not all that high for a real soprano) the sound also assumes the rather pinched quality of the "untrained" voice. I began by accepting this as basically suitable for the folksy nature of the music though a professional singer to whom I played a couple of tracks was less kind. Initially I defended Tafur, at least with reference to the repertoire she was singing (it wouldn’t be a very suitable sound for Brahms, for example), but as the disc went on I had to admit that my singer-friend had a point and these high notes began to bother me more and more. Where a song tends towards the lower range she can be very attractive indeed – Lecuona’s Quiero ser hombre shows both singer and music at their best – and the first of the Sas songs shows she can carry this attractively reedy sound down to a low B. So might some of these pieces not have been more effective in a lower key (for example, Suray Surita with its high A flats)? I also think she might have sought a little more variety of expression, though she manages suitably cat-like sounds for Villa-Lobos’s "Little Grey Cat". (By the way, this is listed as an original composition but two Italian listeners independently identified it as a song they had learnt at elementary school, so is it perhaps an arrangement of a traditional melody which has migrated around the Latin world?).

However, I do not want to make too much of these criticisms since by and large Tafur offers a reasonable guide to some little known repertoire, almost all of it worth hearing. The Villa-Lobos pieces are worthy of his reputation as the one Latin American composer to have "broken" into the Western consciousness, with Ginastera not far behind. Singers who enjoy the 7 Popular Spanish Songs of Manuel de Falla should enjoy the Ginastera 5 Popular Argentinian Songs almost equally. Guastavino and Lecuona tend toward "light" music but are none the worse for it. Andres Sas divided his career between Peru and Belgium. His 6 Indian Poems from Peru dress up the folk origins in a romantic-impressionist style, while Modesta Bor would seem to be another of the quite large group of women composers worthy of further investigation. Only the brief examples of Estrada and Valencia failed to interest me. If we are to understand why Copland thought so highly of the former as to encourage him to study in the USA we shall need to hear something of his on a larger scale.

So on the whole a warm welcome for the repertoire, and on balance my reactions to the singer are more positive than not. Alternative performances for comparison are hard to come by, as are scores, but by an odd chance this disc arrived at about the same time as I was asked to accompany a bass in a programme of Latin-American composers, including three of the pieces here. This small hands-on experience seemed to confirm the reliability of these performances. We get translations and brief notes, not always carefully researched, though a trip round Internet for missing dates revealed that the dates of some of these composers seem to be a matter of opinion. I hope the above are correct.

Christopher Howell

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