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Juan Diego Flórez: Sentimiento latino
Pedro Elías GUTIÉRREZ (1870–1954)
1. Alma llanera (1914) [3:18]
José Alfredo JIMÉNEZ (1926–1973)
2. Ella (1950s) [3:44]
María Isabel GRANDA LARCO (Chabuca GRANDA) (1920–1983)
3. La flor de la canela [3:42]
Carlos GARDEL (1890–1935) and Alfredo Le PERA
4. El día quem e quieras(1935) [4:38]
Agustin LARA (1900–1969)
5. Granada (1932) [4:15]
Trad. (arr. Flórez)
6. La jarra de oro [3:16]
José PADILLA (1889–1960)
7. Princesita  (from La corte del amor) (1916) [3:10]
María GREVER (1884–1951)
8. Júrame (1920s) [3:37]
Manuel María PONCE (1882–1948)
9. Estrellita (1914) [3:04]
María Isabel GRANDA LARCO (Chabuca GRANDA) and Eduardo Óscar ROVIRA
10. Fina estampa [2:34]
Noel ESTRADA (1918–1979)
11. En mi viejo San Juan (1940s?) [4:44]
Ernesto LECUONA (1895–1963)
12. Siboney (1929) [4:00]
13. Aquellos ojos verdes [4:14]
María Isabel GRANDA LARCO (Chabuca GRANDA)
14. Bello durmiente [2:38]
Jesús Monge RAMIREZ (1910–1964)
15. México lindo (1940s) [4:03]
Juan Diego Flórez (tenor), Daniel Binelli (bandoneon) (4, 7, 8), David Gálvez (guitar) (2, 3, 9, 10, 14), Shields-Collins Bray (piano) (7, 9), Juan Diego Flórez (bongos (10), Mariachi de Oro with Swang Lin, Eugene Cherkasov, Xiao-Hua Sheng (violin) (2), Michael Shih, Adriana Voirin De Costa (violin) (7, 9), Laura Bruton (viola) (7, 9), Karen Basrak (cello) (7, 9), William Clay (bass) (7, 9), Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra/Miguel Harth-Bedoya (1, 3-6, 8, 11-13, 15)
rec. 25 September–2 October 2004, Landreth Auditorium, Fort Worth, Texas
DECCA 475 7576 [55:08]

Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez has quickly established himself as the leading bel canto tenor of his generation. He specialised at first in Rossini but wrought wonders in the rest of the bel canto repertoire, also venturing into light Verdi. With his melting pianissimos, his ringing top notes and an uncommonly surefooted taste it was only a matter of time before his company decided to launch him into the popular market. And here it his, his first disc with light stuff. Predictable material, one could think, but to a large extent it isn’t. Of course there are some eternal favourites: Granada for instance, Ponce’s lovely Estrellita and Lecuona’s hit Siboney, but much of the rest is fairly unknown, at least in the northern part of Europe. Not everything is perhaps really memorable, but this is also very much a matter of taste and acquaintance. Anyway all the songs are obviously close to the singer’s heart and well suited to his voice.
The majority of the songs are accompanied by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Most of the arrangements are by Angel Peña which sometimes feel a bit overblown in relation to the music. Generally speaking they are neither better nor worse than the arrangements we have heard behind singers like Gigli, Schipa, Di Stefano, Lanza, Domingo, Carreras or Pavarotti in similar repertoire. But the producer, or Flórez himself or whoever made the decisions, has also opted for some small combo backgrounds. In a couple of cases just an acoustic guitar is employed, skilfully played by David Gálvez. In one of these pieces, Fina estampa (track 10), Flórez also plays bongos and for several songs he also provides the arrangements. All of this contributes to making the disc possibly more varied than most similar offerings. I greatly enjoyed the Mariachi band on track 2 with its characteristic trumpet sound and Padilla’s Princesita with bandoneon, piano and string quintet.
But it is for the singing one wants this disc and in that respect it is a pleasure from beginning to end. I have already accounted for some of his characteristics and I must stress again his unerring feeling for taste. He never forces his tone beyond its natural limits and he never holds on unduly to those thrilling final notes. He phrases so naturally, like a well-schooled actor who gives the impression of just speaking naturally from his heart while in reality making a deeply penetrating impersonation. His soft singing is always finely judged and very often even magical, as for example in the scaling down in Princesita, where the concluding ¡Bésame, bésame! (Kiss me, kiss me!) is an intimate whisper, and likewise in the chamber version of Estrellita. He certainly masters his instrument to perfection.
It may be of some interest to make a couple of random comparisons just to prove his excellence, and this randomness turned out to be from the top-drawer. Granada, bawled by many a ‘can belto’ tenor, is light and elegant and the ebb and flow of the phrasing makes it unusually alive. Mario Lanza’s reading is legendary and glorious, but by comparison he is beefy and unsubtle, singing at a constant forte. Florez, with a voice that is one or two numbers smaller, has the same heroic ring as Lanza and the contrast to his softer singing only makes the fortes more telling and thrilling. Carlos Gardel’s El dia que me quieras, written the same year that he was killed in a plane crash, was also recorded by Domingo 25 years ago as part of a collection of tangos. In this case the situation is more even: Domingo is more muscular but his honeyed caressing of the phrases is even more alluring than that of Florez, who finds a little more light and shade in this piece, which has to be counted as one of Gardel’s best.
A few of these songs were also recorded by José Carreras (for Ensayo but distributed widely by Philips): honest, full-throated singing, no doubt. I have often played that record, but compared to Flórez he feels one-dimensional, even though he can also float his tone softly at times.
I feel no need to go into detailed analyses of all the songs here; the general impression is what I have already tried to explain – sensible, sensitive, intelligent singing, technically impeccable, extremely beautiful – and not a trace of the bad behaviour that mars so many competitors: sobs, gulps, histrionics, attempts to break the sound-barrier, you name it.
This is a complete singer and we can only be grateful that we have him around. He should be savoured by anyone in the least interested in good singing. Whether the songs themselves are first-rate or third-rate – as John Steane maintains in The Gramophone – is of little importance. Singing of this calibre can refine even the slightest of material – and this is not all that slight. Moreover there are some eternal gems. Start your listening séance – for that is what it probably will turn out to be – with Estrellita (track 9). I bet that you will be hooked.
The sound is excellent, even though I very soon forgot to notice since the singing was so captivating. Andrew Farach-Colton contributes liner notes that really give information – not readily available elsewhere – and the song-texts are all there – with translations by Susannah Howe. Satisfaction is complete!
Göran Forsling


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