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Sounds of Brazil and Argentina
Carlos GUASTAVINO (1912-2000)
4 Canciones Argentinas [7:08]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
5 Canciones populares Argentinas Op.10 (1943) [10:10]
Francisco MIGNONE (1897-1986)
6 liricas para canto e piano (1932?) [11:08]
Camargo GUARNIERI (1907-1993)
5 Poemas de Alice [6:54]
João Guilhereme RIPPER (b.1959)
3 poemas de Vinicius de Moraes [15:44]
Luciano Botelho (tenor), Elizabeth Marcus (piano)
rec. no venue given, 2-4 September 2013
MUSIC & MEDIA MMC108 [51:04]

A fine disc that yet again underscores the wealth of excellent Latin American music that languishes unknown in the wider classical music world. I had not heard Brazilian-born tenor Luciano Botelho before and he proves to be an ideal guide. All importantly his voice seems ideally suited to this repertoire - light and focused, agile and attractive with exactly the right kind of timbre. His accompanist is the British pianist Elizabeth Marcus. She is a specialist in vocal accompaniment and is alive to every nuance in the music. Just occasionally I wondered if she could have found even more muscular abandon but this is balanced by her great sensitivity in the songs with a more impressionistic style.
 
The collections of songs offered roughly split down the middle into cycles of art songs setting poet's works and those which are re-workings of folksongs. By that simple device alone, together with the inherent variation in compositional styles, enough variety is given to the recital to avoid any chance of 'sameness'. The programme opens with Carlos Guastavino's 4 Canciones Argentinas. According to the painfully brief liner-note, he is considered one of Argentina's foremost 20th century composers - especially for voice with piano and voice songs making up the bulk of his two hundred works. I had not encountered his music before. These songs fall into the group of re-worked folksongs. The strengths of Botelho's voice are instantly apparent and in the second song Coming from Chilecito there is an appealing and unmistakably Latin American lilt alternating 3/4 and 6/8 rhythms combined with a strumming guitar-like accompaniment. These are no forgotten masterpieces but instantly attractive songs perfectly scaled. You could imagine them being used in recital programmes to great effect.
 
By some distance Alberto Ginastera is the best known composer represented on this disc. Even then his fame rests on a couple of works and his song catalogue is all but unknown to the wider listening public. Again this cycle consists of settings of popular songs. To my ear Ginastera is better, and ultimately more successful, than Guastavino at fusing his own musical identity with the pre-existing songs - to the service of both. Frustratingly, the liner gives no information at all - so courtesy of Wikipedia, and hoping it is accurate, I learn that this is Ginastera's Op.10 from 1943. This would place it firmly in the composer's "Objective Nationalism" period. More interesting, is the information that the cycle includes both folk-melodies and original ones by Ginastera in a folk style. Indeed it is the skill and sophistication of the writing lying beneath the veneer of 'simplicity' that impresses. The range between the infectious pulsating rhythms of the opening and closing songs and the dreamy impressionism of the second - Triste - is most impressive. Both performers are able to adapt their styles to emphasise these extremes too - it's a rather compelling cycle. It is rounded off by the kind of wonderfully virile macho piece that so defines Ginastera at this time - No.5 Gato. This is an instance where I feel Marcus could have risked a little more percussive brutality but it is a minor quibble.
 
Every Brazilian composer tends to be placed after Heitor Villa-Lobos and Francisco Mignone is no exception. It would seem that the 6 liricas para canto e piano, recorded here, date from 1932 after he had returned from training in Milan and before taking up a post in Rio de Janeiro. These are settings of poems by Yolande Schloenbach Blumenschein (Sao Paulo, 26 May 1882 - 14 March 1963 ), known as Colombina. Although the son of an Italian immigrant Mignone was intensely interested in nationalistic music - although little of that pervades this cycle. In the main it is reflective and lyrical - attractive but not as strongly appealing as the Ginastera. Camargo Guarnieri is another one of those 'not-as-famous-as-Villa-Lobos' Brazilian composers. In recent years a series of instrumental and orchestral discs have allowed his music to emerge as fascinating and appealing in its own right. His cycle comprises five settings of poems by his wife Alice Camargo Guarnieri. I like the gently insistently swaying rhythms set up in the piano accompaniment over which Botelho sings passionately. As well as Latin American rhythms the harmony at times seems to slip into the added-note world of jazz - the final song Promessa - has a naggingly insistent displaced pulse and bubbling good humour that again would find a valuable place in many a recital.
 
The disc is completed by three songs by João Guilhereme Ripper. The liner states that Ripper works across various genres including jazz and bossa nova. Certainly these influences underlie - rather subtly - these three songs which are settings of Vinicius de Moraes. As well as being a poet de Moraes was instrumental in creating the genre of Bossa Nova alongside Antônio Carlos Jobim - of Girl from Impanema fame. This is a very enjoyably triptych of songs - the jazz influence clearer than the Latin American one. The closing song on the CD - Poem of the beloved's eyes is passionately powerful and again deserves to be better known.
 
Unfortunately the presentation of this disc is quite dreadful. Yes, the texts are given in full in their original languages but alongside them - in English only - is a translation that seems to have been derived from a computer programme set to 'painfully literal'. So for example one of de Moraes' poem (track 22 The Apprentice Poet) - and remember this is a man famed, indeed lauded, for the beauty of his poetry and his particular skill at writing lyrics - comes out as: "With lead and sling was pixie and dixie, The green jay look seemed a spoke, Towards mandarin, spinning-top or girl, His brunette body was always running..." Can I have a translation of the translation please? The final song includes the immortal lines: "... your eyes are nocturnal pier filled with farewell tamed docks trailing lights.....". Those are two of the worst examples but the lack of care or skill in producing this is shocking. Apart from the texts the liner has pathetically skimpy biographies of the composers - no information at all about the works - and short reasonable biographies of the performers. With repertoire like this even some very general insights would be invaluable and help promote music that is of real worth. It is all the more frustrating given the quality of the performances - that is the hard bit to do; writing a reasonable liner and providing accurate translations is easy.
 
The recorded sound is pretty good - no venues given. One curiosity given that the recording was made across three consecutive days: the recorded perspective of the voice changes subtly - Botelho is slightly more recessed for some of the songs than others.
 
Overall, a disc well worth hearing for the quality of the music and the performances it contains but one for the rogue's gallery of inept packaging and presentation.
 
Nick Barnard