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Ernesto LECUONA (1895-1963)
Ante El Escorial [4:35]
Granada [3:31]
Zamnra Gitana [1:12]
En tres por cuatro [1:32]
Danaza cubanas: 19th century Cuban Dances [23:47]
San Francisco El Grande [4:17]
Afro-Cuban Dances [12:21]
Suite Andalucía [17:58]
Clara Rodríguez (piano)
rec. 2004
NIMBUS NI6214 [66:54]

Experience Classicsonline

Nimbus certainly doesn’t hide the fact that these aren’t brand new recordings — it prints several glowing published comments as to the elevated nature of the performances — but I wouldn’t say that it goes out of its way to publicise the fact. Thus their position roughly aligns with that of those lines from Fiddler on the Roof: ‘It’s no great shame to be poor — but it’s no great honour, either’. Sticking a copyright and production date of 2013 may persuade potential purchasers otherwise, but the critic’s job is to tell you that the recordings were made by Meridian in either 2003 or 2004. No recording location details are provided, presumably on the grounds that one thing would lead to another, as it were, and you’d have to spill the beans. In any case, why be coy? 2004 isn’t exactly 1924 and the days of playing into acoustic funnel horns.
Anyway, I’ve enjoyed a number of Clara Rodríguez’s more recent discs and I’ve enjoyed this one as much. It helps to like Ernesto Lecuona’s good-time music but I can’t imagine anyone, other than a diehard serialist, not liking it, or at least actively objecting to it. If you enjoy the imposing vistas projected in Ante El Escorial, a kind of lightweight Granados, you will be delighted by both the piece and the playing. There is real rhythmic vitality generated in Granada, with its ancillary hints of Debussy, something else that aligns the Cuban Lecuona to earlier Iberian composers such as Granados and Albéniz. Here, too, Flamenco is fused with Lisztian flourish with devilishly exciting results.
The Danaza cubanas are full of verve and colour, and played with considerable digital clarity and stylistic acumen. Elements of the music sound like Cubano Rags, yet others like updated Gottschalk, which is not wholly unsurprisingly since they are nineteenth-century dances. The other two cycles are the Afro-Cuban Dances and Suite Andalucia. The former glitter ebulliently and are marked by teasing rhythms and splendidly hummable tunes. The latter cycle is no less exciting, each movement a monument to a town or landmark and full of colour, and a very personal sense of warmth and immediacy. The movement devoted to the Guadalquivir, for instance, is rich but not over-complex thematically.
Overlook the booklet timing glitch for San Francisco El Grande. It certainly doesn’t last a mere 1:48, rather a more expansive 4:17, and it’s a richly powerful piece, well worth a few hearings.
There are a number of other recommendable Lecuona discs out there. Tirino has recorded a lot of the composer’s music, not least that for piano and orchestra, on BIS. Kathryn Stott has also recorded his music successfully. Clara Rodríguez’s selection here is as fine as anyone’s.
Jonathan Woolf

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