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Latin: Piano Music for Four Hands from South America
Details at the end of the review.
Duo Lontano
rec. 2019, Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt, Germany

Duo Lontano, made up of Babette Hierholzer and Jürgen Appell, was formed in 2004. They have recorded four-hand duet works and transcriptions by Schubert and Mendelssohn. In the case of the Mendelssohn, Philip Buttall’s review found the pianists, recording and sound excellent but there were reservations about the success of the transcriptions in reproducing the joi de vivre and timbre of the originals. No such reservations here. The works have either been adapted from piano works, or are transcriptions of works that have appeared in many disguises over the years.

This is a very entertaining disc from the opening notes, though an abundance of tango rhythms and the occasional waltz meanthat it is best dipped into rather than taken as a whole. That said, there is plenty of variety. Gottschalk’s pieces make for a vibrant start. His Spanish dance Manchega leaps off the surface of the disc, and the processional Souvenir de Porto Rico is gloriously evocative. Teresa Carreño’s Gottschalk Waltz has a certain flamboyance but that is equalled by its sentimentality; this is more than forgivable since she was ten years old at the time . Lecuona’s famous Malagueña is a brilliant, exciting interlude before a collection of tangos from Lafitte, Gardel, Piazzolla and Nazareth.

Lafitte was a violinist and composer who studied in Paris on the recommendation of Gottschalk. La Bella Cubana, perhaps his most famous piece, contrasts a simple gentle melody with a more energetic middle section. The same is true of Carlos Gardel’s Volver, one of three Argentinian tangos by this native of Toulouse (or not… there is some doubt over his birthplace). There is no doubting his success as a singer, composer and film star. His death in a plane crash at the early age of 44 caused an outpouring of grief among his millions of fans in Argentina. These three tangos, varied in style, give a good idea of his output – the last is Por una cabeza, a phrase meaning “by a head”, as in a horse narrowly winning a race. The lyrics tell of a horse fanatic who compares his love of horses to his love of women (thankfully the comparison appeas to be favourable!). His passion is captured marvellously in this ardent tango-canción.

Astor Piazzolla needs less introduction. Two of his most famous compositions are presented here: the melancholy strains of Oblivion and the steamily acerbic Libertango. By comparison, the Brazilian tangos from the pen of Ernesto Nazareth are elegant and poised. Nazareth’s depiction of the Odéon, the movie theatre in which he played for silent films, trips along with all the assurance of a catwalk model. His Carioca (a person from Rio) shows two sides, a simple exterior with a gentle sway and a more extrovert, unbuttoned character.

Villa-Lobos, who was a great admirer of Nazareth, calling him “the true incarnation of the Brazilian Soul”, is represented by two works. His early waltz Tristorosa – it appears to have been written in 1910 not 1919 as the booklet states – is a lovely salon waltz, not particularly characteristic of the composer but beautiful nonetheless. A refreshing change of mood comes courtesy of his charming miniature Caixinha de Música Quebrada (the little broken music box). Written on a train journey at the request of pianist João de Souza Lima, it sparkles with wit: a delightful scherzo that shimmers over the upper reaches of the keyboard.

Bésame Mucho, Consuelo Torres’s most famous creation and a sultry recreation of the melody of the equally famous Maiden and the nightingale by Granados, has been performed in many ways by musicians the world over. This particular suitor’s pleas for “more, kisses, more” are relatively understated but it is none the worse for that and it fits well in the present company. Upon hearing the elegant Pavana-Capricho by Albéniz after all that had gone before, I was struck by how much it is reminiscent of Nazareth’s poised Brazilian tangos. As the recital opened with the bright sunlit vibrancy of the Latin soul, so it closes in urbane tranquility.

These mood changes and rich fare are all captured well by this accomplished duo and that, coupled with the idiomatic arrangements, makes for an entertaining programme. The sound is clear and rich and the Duo’s own notes (in English, German and Spanish) give little anecdotes about the music. All in all, an engaging release.

Rob Challinor

Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
Manchega Op.38 (1853) [3:10]1
Souvenir de Porto Rico (1857) [5:36]1
Teresa CARREÑO (1853-1917)
Gottschalk Waltz Op.1 (1863) [5:52]
Ernesto LECUONA (1895-1963)
Suite Andalucía – Malagueña (1933) [3:47]2
José WHITE LAFITTE (1836-1918)
La Bella Cubana (1910 or earlier) [4:36]1
Carlos GARDEL (1890-1951)
Mi Buenos Aires Querido (Tango Argentino) (1934) [3:17]1
Volver (Tango Argentino) (1934) [3:33]1
Por una Cabeza (Tango Argentino) (1935) [2:38]1
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Oblivion (1982) [4:16]3
Libertango (1974) [4:15]4
Odéon (Tango Brasileiro) Op.146 (1910) [2:54]1
Carioca (Tango Brasileiro) (1913) [4:50]1
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Tristorosa (Waltz) (1910) [4:43]
Caixinha de Música Quebrada (1931) [3:10]
Consuelo VELÁZQUEZ (1916-2005)
Bésame Mucho (1941) [3:37]1
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Pavana-Capricho Op.12 (1884) [5:36]
arrangements by 1Jürgen Appell, 2Luis Sucra, 3Peter Petrof, 4Jacob Koller

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