Ignacio CERVANTES (1847-1905)
Danzas Cubanas
Full track-listing at end of review
Álvaro Cendoya (piano)
rec. 10-12 August 2010, Anacrusi s.l. Jafre, Girona, Spain.DDD
NAXOS 8.572456 [66:24]  

A child prodigy turned concert pianist, composer, conductor and teacher, Cervantes studied in Paris, but thereafter his life was centred on Cuba. This set of Danzas Cubanas is his best-known work. It can be heard as a collection of Latin ragtime, ranging from jazzy to lyrical, from humorous to deeply emotional. Certainly the habanera, this most famous of the Cuban dances, was the seed of the tango - so this is the proto-tango, which would eventually lead to the sweet creations of Carlos Gardel - think of Mi Buenos Aires querido, or Por una cabeza. Also, you might recognize echoes of the witty piano music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk.
The numbers are sensual, sentimental, even melodramatic, but one thing they are not is boring. This is light music without pretence, but light as Chopin’s mazurkas or Schubert’s waltzes are: predictable yet inventive. It’s like attending a Cuban Schubertiade! The music is built on quite standard moves, and each piece has a standard structure of two 16-bar sections. The rhythms are infectious; even the title Danzas cubanas (say it aloud!) sets a torn, swaying rhythm. The sunny, carefree atmosphere of La Isla Grande rules. The ordering of the pieces sustains the interest throughout; this is not one of those collections where the most attractive numbers go at the beginning and end, and the middle stows all the boring rest!
I doubt that many of these melodies will sink into your heart forever, but all are good while they last. The emotions never go too deep - it is all a little theatrical. The names of the pieces are colorful and descriptive: Yes, forever; It has to be; Weep no more; Cold showers; Don’t touch me and so on. Knowing the name often gives a new view on the music. The names set up the plot; the music becomes like an accompaniment to a silent movie. At first I supposed that all these were originally songs with words, but the booklet says they were written for piano. I have the feeling that if you shuffle the names differently, they will still all fit - there will just be different scenes in this movie.
The playing is idiomatic, embossed, aristocratic and well-judged. The pianist excellently conveys the smile in the music and the subtle humor of the composer. You’ll feel the sadness of Farewell to Cuba, the wit of Cri-cri (Rustling of Petticoats), the reluctance of Decision, the serenity of Amen. Spiritual union is almost a romance by Tchaikovsky. The playing is well articulated and expressive without overloading.
All in all, I find this an excellent background disc, as cheering as a good tropical cocktail but this is not a disc for concentrated listening, at least not for its entire length. 

Oleg Ledeniov 

As cheering as a good tropical cocktail.

see also review by Brian Reinhart
Los tres golpes (The 3 Blows) [1:16]
Cortesana (Courtesan) [2:54]
El velorio (The Wake) [1:41]
La encantadora (The Enchantress) [1:31]
Adiós a Cuba (Farewell to Cuba) [2:02]
Vuelta al hogar (Coming home) [1:07]
Cri-Crí (Rustling of Petticoats) [1:25]
Ilusiones perdidas (Lost Dreams) [2:12]
La carcajada (Laughter) [1:42]
Homenaje (Hommage) [1:44]
La glorieta (The Carousel) [1:48]
Almendares [1:31]
Improvisada (Improvised) [1:21]
No bailes más (Dance No More) [1:27]
Decisión [1:37]
Mensaje (Message) [1:55]
Picotazos (Lovebites) [1:20]
Un recuerdo (A Memory) [1:40]
Soledad (Solitude) [1:53]
Amistad (Friendship) [1:33]
Invitación (Invitation) [2:38]
Interrumpida (Interrupted) [0:41]
La celosa (The Jealous Woman) [0:59]
Amén [2:02]
¡Pst! [1:40]
Siempre sí (Yes Forever) [1:15]
Tiene que ser (It Has To Be) [1:27]
No llores más (Weep No More) [2:18]
Duchas frías (Cold Showers) [1:39]
No me toques (Don't Touch Me) [1:17]
Zigs-Zags [1:32]
Gran señora (Grande Dame) [2:00]
Intima (Intimate) [1:52]
Lejos de ti (Far Away From You) [2:17]
Se fue y no vuelve más (Gone Never To Return) [1:47]
Fusión de almas (Spiritual Union) [3:53]
Te quiero tanto (I Love You So) [2:24]
¿Por qué, eh? (Why, Huh) [1:00]