> Chansons Argentines ... et d'ailleurs [CH]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Francisco Ernani BRAGA (1868-1945)

A casinha pequenina (2), Cinco Canções Nordestinas da Folclore Brasileiro (2)
Carlos López BUCHARDO (1881-1948)

Jujeña (2), Canción del carretero (2)
Francisco de CARO (1898-1976)

Loca Bohemia (1), Flores negras (1)
Carlos GUASTAVINO (1912-2000)

Milonga de dos hermanos (2), Mi garganta (2), Romance de José Cubas (2), El Sampedrino (2)
Sebastián PIANO (1903-1994)

Milanga sentimental (3)
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)

Milonga en ay menor (3), Balada para un organito (4), Los pájaros perdidas (3), Oblivión (2), Yo say Maria (3)
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)

Je te veux (2)
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)

Youkali (2), Je ne t’aime pas (2)
(1) = bandoneon; (2) = mezzo-soprano, piano; (3) = Mezzo-soprano, piano, bandoneon; (4) = piano, bandoneon
Alicia Nafé (mezzo-soprano), Carmen Piazzini (piano), Alfredo Marcucci (bandoneon)
Rec. 24-27.07.2001, Studio 1, BR, Munich
ARTE NOVA 74321 90850 2 [79’ 43"]


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What is a mezzo-soprano (8)?
[see What is a mezzosoprano? part (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7)]


I didn’t, at first, intend to include this in my occasional articles "What is a mezzo-soprano?" since I don’t want to inflate the series with any mezzo-soprano who comes my way, rather to keep it for the very top ones or those who offer some kind of talking-point regarding the mezzo’s art. I came to realise about two-thirds through that Alicia Nafé does in fact offer a talking point, and if it is a slightly negative one I want to say straightaway that the matter is not so serious that it should discourage you from investigating some interesting music.

Nafé is Spanish, of Argentine origin, and has sung widely around the world both in opera and in recitals. She has an extremely rich voice – a "low" mezzo – which she often enriches further with chest tones even though nothing here takes her much below a middle C. The risk with these ultra-rich mezzo voices is that when they move up towards the "break", say from about the F above middle C up till about E or F (which I presume is where her "break" is), the sheer weight of the voice seems to drag the intonation down, especially if the note to be sung is tied by legato to a previous lower note. Now I don’t want to give the impression that Nafé is always flat in that zone, nor that, when she is, she is very much so. But as the disc wore on and I found I was not getting maximum satisfaction and began to cast around for reasons why, I homed in on this. If you think this might worry you, try to sample "Nigue – nigue – ninhas" from the Braga cycle and see what you think. In a way I am sorry to take issue specifically with Nafé, since this is a technical matter that all possessors of this type of voice have to keep in mind.

My other reservation is that, in spite of a full-voiced, gutsy approach, Nafé does not produce any great variety. However, if this all sounds rather negative I want to say now that, while I wouldn’t suggest you run out and buy the disc because of the singer, I would like to recommend the programme itself and do not feel these minor reservations actually stand in the way if you are at all interested.

Latin American music amounts to far more than Villa-Lobos and (maybe) Ginastera and (following more recent trends) Piazzolla. Every time I encounter Guastavino I feel that in his apparently simple way he is one of the minor goldmines of 20th Century song writing, and Braga makes a stronger impression than on my previous encounter with him. The idea of mixing in a bandoneon was an imaginative one. I’m not the best person to judge a bandoneonist (if that’s what you call them) but Marcucci sounds thoroughly effective to me and the items in which all three collaborate are among the highlights of the disc, not least Piazzolla’s haunting "Milanga en ay menor". The pianist is excellent. The Satie and Weill items fit quite nicely into the programme but these aren’t the finest performances you will have heard of them.

The notes (in German and English) are by Piazzini and chat away pleasantly, telling us what good performances we are going to hear. Little that is specific about the music emerges. It would have been nice to know, for example, why Piazzolla’s powerful "Oblivión" has its words in Italian. We get all the texts, but without translations. There are those who tell us tartly not to be lazy, you can get all this from Internet these days. Well, I know a site (www.recmusic.org/lieder/) which is a quite phenomenal labour of love on the part of its creator, Emily Ezust, containing thousands – nay, tens of thousands – of song texts by over three thousand composers, many of them with English translations, and if we’re talking of lieder by Schubert or Brahms, then perhaps a record company, especially when producing bargain price discs, might feel justified in leaving listeners to do their own research. But a search for Guastavino on this site yields to date (the site is continually updated) only his name, dates and a few untranslated titles. So I still insist that texts and translations are needed when the repertoire is rare. However, the texts themselves are present, so if you have a good knowledge of French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian you should be all right.

Some time ago I welcomed a disc of Latin American songs song by Marina Tafur (Lorelt LNT 112). There, too, my recommendation was for the repertoire in spite of a few reservations about the singer. Though the two discs have rather different objectives (Tafur gives space to the two "giants" Villa-Lobos and Ginastera and has no bandoneonist), I think, now, that if you are choosing one or the other, the present disc adds up to a more appealing programme.

Christopher Howell

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