> Boleros - Jose Cura [DR]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Jose Cura (tenor)
Latin American love ballads by:-
Armando MANZANERO: "Como yo te amé," "Somos Novios," "Te extraño," "Esta tarde vi llover," "Voy a apagar la luz." Portillo de la LUZ: "Tú, me delirio," "Contigo aprendi." P. JUNCO, Jr./A. DOMINGUEZ: "Nosotros / Perfidia." Bobby CAPO: "Juguete." Paul MIRASKI: "Una mujer." Vincente GARRIDO: "No me platiques." Alvaro CASTILLO: "La mentira."
Arrangements and Orchestrations by Jorge Calandrelli
Sinfonia di London/Ettore Stratta
Recorded June 11-15, 2001, Eurodisc Studios, Madrid; August 6, 2001, Ocean V-U Studios, Miami; and December 4-6, 2001, Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
WARNER CLASSICS 8573-85821-2 [45.08]


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Few contemporary opera singers have aroused as much passionate controversy as has the Argentina-born tenor Jose Cura, during his rise to international prominence during the past five years. No one, apparently, is indifferent to Curaís voice.

Curaís detractors inevitably cite his lack of vocal integration, with a "hole" in the voice between the middle and the top registers; his tendency to achieve a rich sound by "covering" his voice too high (Giuseppe di Stefanoís abrupt vocal deterioration in the 1960s is often attributed to this same technical cause); problematic top notes of questionable duration, quality, and pitch; and a lack of legato in his phrasing.

Curaís admirers, on the other hand, cite the virile magnetism inherent in his singing (think: operaís answer to skatingís Philippe Candelloro); his light, floating pianissimi; a thrilling top register in the Mario del Monaco vein; an uncanny ability to point text; and a total commitment to his roles that draws some audiences deeply into the work at hand.

In this albumís program booklet, Jorge Calandrelli defines the "bolero" as a contemporary, sophisticated Latin love song, highly influenced by a wide variety of other music from American jazz to classical composers to African rhythms (think: "The Shadow of Your Smile" sung in Spanish with a subtle bossa nova beat in the background.) So the term "bolero", here, has nothing in common with the dance form of the same name; or with classical extensions of it, by such composers as Ravel and de Falla.

This is music, then, designed to maximize Curaís strengths and to minimize his weaknesses. Cura is to the language, the manner, and the genre born. So here, at last, is an "opera crossover" album totally devoid of all "Eef-Ahee-Lofft-Eeyew" pretentiousness. Lovely pianissimos abound: Curaís rapt "Voy a apagar la luz" near the end of the song by the same name is, alone, worth the price of the album. The tenor is actually able to turn his lack of legato and his tendency to "break up" his phrases to good advantage here, using the breaks to point words and invest meaning to the line. Save for one quavery top note, he can deliver the high-lying climaxes to several songs with sturdy power, without having to blast his way through at full pressure (the climax of "Juguete" is one fine example.) And the middle voice, where much of this music lies, is rich, even, and attractive.

This programís big drawback, however, is its lack of individuality and contrast. Cura either cannot or will not deliver much in the way of vocal variety and color here. Perhaps this is not really Curaís fault, since all twelve of the songs programmed explore a narrow emotional range and run the gamut from bittersweet to bittersweet. Compounding the problem are Calandrelliís arrangements. While his work with solo instruments is often imaginative (the flute introduction to "Esta tarde vi llover" and the cornet solo at the break of "No me platiques" are succinct musical definitions of the dramatic situations in each song,) his use of full orchestra is bland, plastic, and totally generic (think: "Ebbtide" in which the orchestral tide stubbornly refuses to ebb.) Even when orchestral contrast is offered, it often makes no point: the jazzy, upbeat coda to "Juguete" comes as a rude shock after the melancholy "I-want-to-be-your-plaything" tone of the lyricsí ending. The solo piano work throughout the album is reminiscent of a talented graduate student in piano performance moonlighting as a lounge lizard at a local piano bar. Curaís gripping, poignant a capella introduction to "Voy a apagar la luz" is totally undone by the entrance of a piano that tries desperately to have nothing to say. (On the other hand, that exact tension may well be the intended point of this arrangement. Francoise Sagan once defined jazz as "accelerated unconcern." And the deliberate innocuousness of the piano does tend to make the vocal line more poignant, here.)

Perhaps the two-dimensional quality of this album results from the way in which it was recorded: the basic tracks with Cura, Calendrelli on piano, and a rhythm section from Barcelona were recorded in Madrid; solo acoustic guitar work by Rene Toledo was recorded in Miami; and the orchestra was recorded in London. Different recording engineers were used for each session.

This album provides only 45.08 minutes of music for a full-price CD. Perhaps the difficult recording arrangements, or Calendrelliís need to complete the arrangements to accommodate Curaís busy schedule were to blame. Surely, there was no dearth of usable music.

I shall return to this album only infrequently. But when I am in the mood for Latin love songs that soothe, I shall return to it with much pleasure.

Dennis Ryan

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