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Mozart y Mambo
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concerto Movement for Horn in E flat major, K. 370b (1781) [5:02]
Rondo in E flat major for Horn and Orchestra, K. 371 (1781) [6:25]
Horn Concerto in E flat major, K. 447 (c.1784-87) [14:21]
Dámaso PÉREZ PRADO (1916-1989)
Qué Rico el Mambo (1949-50) (arr. Joshua Davis) [2:35]
Edgar OLIVERO (b. 1985)
Sarahnade Mambo (based on Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik) [6:34]
Rondo alla Mambo (based on the third movement of Mozart’s Horn Concerto, K. 447) [6:03]
Isolina CARRILLO (1907-1996)
Dos Gardenias (1945) (arr. Jorge Aragón) [5:05]
Moisés SIMONS (1889-1945)
El Manisero (1930) (arr. Jorge Aragón) [8:33]
Sarah Willis (horn)
Harold Madrigal Frías (trumpet); Yuniet Lombida Prieto (saxophone); Jorge Aragón (piano)
Havana Lyceum Orchestra/José Antonio Méndez Padrón
Havana Horns
The Sarahbanda
rec. 2020, Oratorio San Felipe Neri, Havana, Cuba
ALPHA 578 [54:45]

Sarah Willis, hornist with the Berlin Philharmonic, is nothing if not enterprising. Although she is a superb performer of her instrument, she “takes a back seat” at the Philharmonic usually playing fourth horn. As she engagingly explains in a 26- minute Deutsche Welle documentary video (unfortunately not included with the CD), she does not consider herself as a concert soloist and would rather play in the orchestra. She specializes in the instrument’s low range, which are the parts written for second and fourth horn. A good example of this is the cadenza that Klaus Wallendorf wrote for her in the concerto’s first movement. She refers to this in her very readable and enlightening booklet note accompanying the disc. This cadenza readily displays her whole range, while her playing leaves nothing to be desired here or elsewhere on the disc.

Willis first visited Cuba in 2017 and fell in love with the people and their music. One of the local musicians told her that “Mozart would have been a good Cuban,” which gave her the inspiration to return to Cuba and record this album. She was taken not only with the quality of the local music-making, but also with the sheer love of the Cubans for their music. She quickly felt a connection with the musicians there and their popular music, whether it be salsa, mambo, son, or bolero. For the Mozart works she is accompanied by the Havana Lyceum Orchestra, a chamber orchestra consisting of young Cuban musicians under their conductor, Pepe Padrón, as he is affectionately known. Willis is thrilled to work with him and the orchestra and believes that, if he so desired, he could conduct anywhere in the world. He prefers to stay in Cuba and develop his young orchestra. Based on their performances here, the orchestra displays much talent. If not as refined as some of their European counterparts, they make up for it by their obvious enthusiasm and esprit. While Willis is exuberant in her praise for the musicians, she also comments on the poor state of their instruments. Thus, one euro in sales of this album is donated to the “Instruments for Cuba” fund.

Willis and the orchestra treat Mozart with a light hand. Her tone is clear and pleasantly bright, yet with appropriate warmth. The joyousness of their interpretations is palpable. I have heard my share of Mozart horn concerto recordings and these are up there with the best. Tempos are well chosen with the Romance of the concerto flowing and not too broad, as it sometimes can be. The recording places the horn upfront, something often happening in concerto recordings, and one could wish greater presence from the orchestra at times. The other Mozart pieces, particularly the Concerto Movement (reconstructed by Robert Levin from fragments of an unfinished fifth horn concerto) and the Rondo are not recorded as often as the concertos. They deserve to be heard and make a welcome addition here.

The rest of the programme consists of traditional popular Cuban music and arrangements of Mozart in mambo style. These are performed by a salsa band consisting of bongos, timbales, congas, bass, and piano, and with terrific solos by the young, local saxophonist Yuniet Lombida Prieto. The Olivero arrangement, Sarahnade Mambo, based on Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, features the Havana Horns (14 hornists and Willis) and saxophone soloist Lombida Prieto. The principal trumpet of the orchestra, Harold Madrigal Frías is featured in the Cuban song arrangements of Dos Gardenias (familiar from the Buena Vista Social Club) and El Manisero, both as soloist and in duet with Willis. It is remarkable how well the horn integrates in this Cuban dance music. Pianist Jorge Aragón is likewise featured in his arrangements here. The last item El Manisero, unlike the others on the programme, is recorded live and is accompanied by much cheering. This is all lots of fun, but one must see the video (available on YouTube) to fully appreciate how entertaining it is. The disc’s booklet, though, is worthwhile with Sarah Willis’s discussion of the project and the music, and with plentiful colour photos. In every way, this disc provides a great deal of pleasure - something especially necessary during these trying times.

Leslie Wright

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