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Bésame Mucho
Juan Diego Flórez (tenor), Jonathan Bolivar (guitar) & others
rec. 2017, Casino Baumgarten, Vienna
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
SONY 19075822942 [72:10]

Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez made his professional debut at age 23 when he stepped in and replaced an ailing Bruce Ford at the Rossini Festival at Pesaro 22 years ago. It was indeed a spectacular start of a spectacular career, where Rossini roles have played an important part. His recording career also kicked off rather quickly and his discography is comprehensive, to say the least. In 2001 he was signed by Decca and in 2006 they released an album with popular Latin American songs, Sentimiento Latino, which I had the privilege to review for Musicweb. It was my “Recording of the Month” in September that year. Now, twelve years later, comes a sequel, and expectations were high when I put the disc in my CD-player. Twelve years is a long time in a tenor’s life and now in his mid-forties, can he challenge his younger self?

The first difference I noticed, even before starting listening, was the accompaniment. On the previous volume the majority of the songs were accompanied by a full-size symphony orchestra playing fairly overblown arrangements. Here Jonathan Bolivar’s guitar is the sole instrument on several of the songs, sometimes with the addition of a second guitar. A double bass is heard on some of the tracks and various percussion instruments enhance the rhythmic intensity on some tracks. Algy Wu’s bandoneon enriches the colour on two tracks, Sólo le pido (tr. 9) and Carlos Gardel’s Volver (tr. 17), Endrina Rosales’s flute is a riveting partner in Guantanamera (tr. 13) and La pollera colorá (tr. 6) has two clarinets and two eager trumpets to create festivity and for the final number El yerberito modern the trumpets are back for a brilliant finale. But by and large the reduction from large orchestra to chamber format means that there is greater intimacy this time, even though Juan Diego Flórez is more prone to hold on to brilliant top notes a bit longer and the tone in general is slightly darker and fuller than twelve years ago, which is a natural development. He has also of late ventured into heavier roles, Werther for instance, but the voice is still a bel canto instrument and he has basically retained the qualities that have served him so well during the career: beauty of tone, ability to nuance, effortless delivery, good taste, elegance, stunning coloratura, a perfect trill and good enunciation. His pianissimo singing is superb and his falsetto is remarkable. Steeped in the rhythms of Latin America from his earliest years he is ideally equipped for the repertoire on the new disc.

Some of the songs are well-known: Bésame mucho of course, Aquarela do Brasil, Cuccurrucucú paloma and Guantanamera have been performed and recorded by the likes of Joan Baez, Frank Sinatra and a legion of other singers and musicians, and they are certainly rewarding to hear in Juan Diego Flórez’s versions, but there are many other songs here worth anyone’s attention. Amaneci entre tus brazos (tr. 8) is a beautiful warm love song that I immediately returned to, and Carlos Gardel’s Volver (tr. 17) is also a soft attractive song, composed in 1934, the year before Gardel died in an aeroplane crash. As so often with discs of this kind one shouldn’t play it from beginning to end in one sitting, but the material and the accompaniments are so varied that it is palatable anyway. There is such vitality and joy in the music making that it is hard to resist. Not every classically schooled singer can approach this kind of repertoire with such ease and naturalness. I am convinced that those who invest in this disc will be deeply satisfied. And now I have to go back to my listening room for a second reprise of the whole lot.

Göran Forsling

Consuelo VELÁZQUEZ (1916 – 2005)
1. Bésame mucho [3:59]
Andrés SOTO (?)
2. El tamalito [4:59]
Carlos Brito BENAVIDES (1891 – 1943)
3. Sombras [4:25]
Ary BARROSO (1903 – 1964)
4. Aquarela do Brasil [4:21]
Tomás MÉNDEZ (1927 – 1995)
5. Cucurrucucú paloma [5:21]
6. La pollera colorá [3:03]
Simón DIAZ (1928 – 2014)
7. Caballo viejo [3:04]
José Alfredo JIMÉNEZ (1926 – 1973)
8. Amaneci entre tus brazos [3:22]
León GIECO (b. 1951)
9. Sólo le pido a Dios [4:16]
César PORTILLO DE LA LUZ (1922 – 2013)
10. Contigo en la distancia [3:41
Chabuca GRANDA (1920 – 1983)
11. José Antonio [5:02]
Elpidio RAMIREZ (1882 – 1960) & Pedro GALINDO (1906 – 1989)
12. La malagueña [6:04]
Joseito FERNÁNDEZ (1908 – 1979)
13. Guantanamera [3:01]
Augusto Polo CAMPOS (1932 – 2018)
14. Cuando llora mi guitarra [3:39]
César ISELLA (b. 1938)
15. Canción con todos [3:11]
Chito FARÓ (1915 – 1986)
16. Si vas para Chile [3:28]
Carlos GARDEL (1890 – 1935)
17. Volver [3:23]
Néstor MILÍ (1910 – 1967)
18. El yerberito moderno [3:40]

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