Rolando Villazón ˇMexico!
Consuelo VELÁZQUEZ (1916 – 2005)
1. Bésame mucho [5:30]
Maria GREVER (1885 – 1951)
2. Despedida [4:09]
Alfonso Esparza OTEO (1894 – 1950)
3. Dime que si [3:53]
Tomás MÉNDEZ (1927 – 1995)
4. Cucurruxú, paloma [5:09]
Ignacio Fernández ESPERÓN (1894 – 1968)
5. Íntima [2:52]
Daniel CATÁN (b. 1949)
6. Comprendo [3:29]
Agustín LARA (1897 – 1970)
7. Veracruz [3:07]
8. Te quiero, dijiste [5:29]
Agustín LARA
9. Noche de ronda [4:16]
Roberto CANTORAL (b. 1930)
10. El reloj [3:06]
Alfonso Esparza OTEO
11. Un Viejo amor [4:00]
Agustín LARA
12. Solamente una vez [4:04]
Jorde del MORAL (1900 – 1941)
13. Besos robados [3:55]
Manuel M. PONCE (1886 – 1948)
14. Estrellita [3:03]
Quirino MENDOZA y CORTÉS (1862 – 1957)
Cielito lindo
Jesús “Chucho” MONGE (1910 – 1964)
México lindo y querido
Rolando Villazón (tenor)
Bolívar Soloists with Guests/Efraín Oscher
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, March 2010
The lyrics and their English translations can be downloaded free of charge as a pdf file here
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 477 9234 [65:54]

On the Deutsche Grammophon homepage Rolando Villazón states: ‘I was not looking for Hollywood-style arrangements of Mexican music with a big orchestra, I wanted a chamber orchestra that is able to recreate the intimate feeling of the music and also to spark its radiant fire.’ I do sympathize with this approach though it isn’t a traditional chamber orchestra but the Bolívar Soloists (flute, violin, cello and piano) frequently supplemented with double-bass, guitar and plenty of percussion plus a couple of woodwind, a viola and, most notably, a trumpet, which is an essential feature in Mexican music. Not always is there a chamber music feeling, rather a relaxed jazz combo in ebullient mood. The arrangements are quite elaborate and things happen all the time, rhythmically as well as melodically. The musicians are in high spirits and video clips on the homepage reveal that Villazón was enjoying the sessions.

He has since I first heard him risen to the top of my list of present-day favourite tenors. This is not even primarily for his similarity with the young Placido Domingo in timbre and general musicality. He is a marvellous actor and his singing has always stood out as stylish and impassioned – not always compatible quantities. His rather recent Handel recital is good evidence of that.

On the present disc, in popular songs from his native Mexico, repertoire that should be and probably is close to his heart, he doesn’t convince in the way he did on his previous discs. To be sure he isn’t a baroque stylist on the Handel recital either but still fits surprisingly well into the picture, inspired no doubt by the presence of one of the best baroque groups of our time. Here, backed by an excellent group of compatriots, he doesn’t always seem to strive for ‘the intimate feeling of the music, as quoted above, rather he stresses ‘to spark its radiant fire’. While we are grateful for his choice of a small ensemble for the accompaniments, his own approach too often conflicts with the backgrounds. His singing is overblown in exactly the way many a great classical singer has killed lighter fare through being too operatic. Villazón tries to ‘out-Domingo’ – and he doesn’t have the Otello-power for that. Others may go into a trance for such full-throated singing, but I prefer a lighter touch. Moreover it isn’t very convincingly done, vocally. He presses the voice far beyond its natural means and he is strained and even pinched in tone. I don’t want to be a prophet of woe but it seems that his vocal condition has deteriorated after his throat problems a while ago. His middle register also sounds drier than before, afflicted by a kind of hoarseness. Reports of cancelled concerts and performances lately also seem ill-omened.

But let us not rule him out completely. This is still an interesting disc and much of the repertoire is infectious, Villazón still has one of the most beautiful voices when he chooses to husband its resources and his soft singing is lovely. Just listen to the marvellous pianissimo end of Comprendo (tr. 6) or Maria Grever’s beautiful Te quiero, dijiste (tr. 8), sung mostly piano throughout and with the final note taken falsetto. El retoj (tr. 10) sounds like a potential hit and Besos robados (tr. 13) is true chamber music size, accompanied only by the piano, until the trumpet enters for a solo before the final refrain. Ponce’s world hit Estrellita (tr. 14) is also sung with restraint, just as one wants it, and the concluding medley is highly entertaining.

No, Villazon isn’t ruled out yet but he should be careful with his voice, it is a delicate instrument and a middleweight shouldn’t adopt heavyweight manners until he has gained some more muscle tone.

The recording is excellent and lets us hear every detail in the often quite intricate arrangements. The lyrics can be downloaded (see link in the header) but it was a little tricky to get access to them. You have to click on MUSIC on the homepage and then on LYRICS DOWNLOAD and then type in the password MEXICO2010.

Göran Forsling

see also review by Rob Barnett

An interesting disc and much of the repertoire is infectious.