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Ernesto LECUONA (1895 – 1963)
En una Noche así : On a night like this : Love Songs : Siempre en mi corazón, Como presciento, Allàen le sierra (from Córdoba), Tu no tienes corazón,Mi mi corazón se fué, Dome de tus rosas, !No es por ti!, ! Mira! (from La Habanera), Dame el amor, Que risa me da, La comparsa, Al din, Se abreiron las flores, Conga Cuba, Amor tadio, En una noche así (from the film Carnival in Costa Rica") Devuélveme el mi corazón, Primavera de illusion, Me hads dejado, No me engañarás, Rumba mejoral, No me mires ni me hables, Mi amor fue una flor, Canción del amor trist.
Carole Farley (soprano), John Constable (piano)
recorded Stockholm, 19/22 August 2002,.DDD.
BIS CD 1374 [70’28"]

Millions have grown up with an image of South American culture inspired by movie musicals. They offered a glimpse into an exotic paradise where everyone sang, danced and made love, where nights were always lush and tropical. The phenomenon has become so much a part of our shared world wide cultural heritage, that we forget its origins. It’s remarkable that the genre was largely popularized by one man, Ernesto Leucona, whose roots were in serious music.

Lecuona was Cuban, and a conservatoire trained pianist. His worked in the ancient Spanish zarzuela tradition, which synthesized theatre, operetta and art music. It is an adaptive, creative form, and the Lecuona in turn incorporated Afro-Cuban characteristics, developing a distinctive style that was to have widespread and long lasting influence. As in the text of Que risa me da,
"Today it’s the rage to dance the rumba,
whether in Shanghai, Russia or New York,
and it’s because the rumba gets you dancing,

with its rhythmical sound"

After the development of "talking pictures", musical movies gripped the popular imagination. The Latin American genre was ideally suited, because it combined song with acting, exotic scenery and romantic plots, humour and escapism in a world hit by the Depression of the 1930’s. Lecuona’s music fitted the bill perfectly and he found instant success, writing for at least 11 movies, such as the seminal Cuban Love Song of 1931, which starred Jimmy Durante and Laurence Tibbett. Movies, radio, nightclubs, and recordings fuelled the growth of bands like those of Xavier Cugat, and Cesare Romero. They had huge international hits with the composers many songs like Malagueña, and Say si si. Chances are that many have heard this composer, without realising who he was. In turn, these inspired a host of new variants. Tango music, for example, still has a huge following in Scandinavia. For decades, South American music rivalled jazz, and latin bands were prominent in popular music and dance. Perhaps we have Lecuona to thank for Carmen Miranda !

Yet success has obscured the composers role as a serious musician who was admired by Ravel and Gershwin, and his grounding in art music and zarzuela. His teacher was Joaquín Nin, the pianist and composer. BIS Recordings have pioneered a revival of interest in Lecuona’s music. They have issued a five CD set, "The Complete Piano Works" with pianist Thomas Tirino. After hearing this recording, I’m keen to check these out, too. With this release of some of the solo songs, they are expanding coverage of the composer’s output. Perhaps recordings of his 37 orchestral works may one day follow.
Carole Farley did first hand research in tracking down scores that had lain untouched in abandoned basements, and in drawers and trunks that had not been opened in years. Her choice of the songs on this recording reflect her favourites out of several hundred. Some are relatively well known, such as Dame des tus rosas. Others, however, are first recordings, though for most of us, all of it effectively is new. But what a discovery !
The song chosen as the title of the recording, En una nocha así comes from the film Carnival in Costa Rica, a 1947 Warner Brothers hit starring Cesar Romero and Dick Hyams. Also lovely is Siempre en mi corazón, epitomising the description of the genre as "brilliant and triumphal rhythm, harmonious and sensual" used in another song. What gives the songs their appeal is the contrast between sensuality and nostalgia, as if beneath the lilting surface lies depth and sorrow. Completely different is Rumba mejoral ("pronouncing Rumba"). Its edgy, jumpy rhythms are a striking mix of jazz, Hispanic and 1930’s dance music. Similarly, the brisk Conga Cuba, is slightly less joyously hyperactive, but fun. La comparsa, also known as "Carnival procession " evokes "the sound of bare drums, maracas and percussion,"….."magical sounds inspire contortions".

Infectious rhythms underpin all the songs, creating a striking tension with the sensual, often nostalgic, extended notes in the voice. Indeed, the piano part is dominant, defining the character of each song far more distinctly than the voice part, which floats sensuously over the piano like a warm breeze. Most of the texts are pretty basic, many written by the composer himself. Perhaps the most profound songs in the collection is Canción del amor trist, to a poem by the Uruguayan Juana de Ibarbourou. It is a strong, passionate ballad, as if the intensity of the poem brought out something quite ferocious in the composer.

Carole Farley is an opera singer of great experience, debutting at the Metropolitan Opera in 1977. Her performance is pleasant, barring occasional challenges and slight waywardness. Her singing of softer, gentler lines is very attractive. She has also recorded the songs of José Serebrier, who wrote the text for one of the songs, Devuélveme el mi corazón. The pianist is John Constable, who has worked with many musicians, including Serebrier. His playing is firm, adroit, and he manages the tricky tempo changes with flexibility. Other recordings of Lecuona’s songs do exist, but this is the one that will put them on the map.

Anne Ozorio


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