Review of LNT112: Songs from Latin America
For the most part the Anglo-Saxon world remains disgracefully ignorant about so much serious twentieth-century music from Latin America; and it has been the Cuban-born musician Odaline de la Martinez's avowed intention to spread the word about this music on the Lorelt record label, a by-product of her live music-making with the ensemble Lontano. A wise woman, Martinez has sugared the pill, so to speak, on this new collection by offering first six songs by the best-known composer south of the border, Heitor Villa-Lobos. And one's admiration is as much for the music as for the artists who have recorded it. Cantilena, for example, a short song in two stanzas that is based upon what presumably is a popular poem since no poet is credited in the accompanying booklet. Musically the whole song is grounded in a sequence of simple rocking chords with the voice negotiating its way between them; Marina Tafur offers fine, soft singing, with a truly seductive way with the portamento.
In so many of these songs, particularly those composed by an older generation of Latin Americans, dance rhythms insinuate themselves into the music. The Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, with Villa-Lobos, is perhaps one of the best-known Latin American musicians from the middle years of the twentieth century (he died in 1963 at the age of 67). He toured Europe and the USA with his band Lecuona's Cuban Boys and a song such as La Señora Luna, a surreal affair with Madame Moon wanting to marry a little pageboy from the Royal House, revels in Latin dance syncopations. Here Marina Tafur makes something splendid of the drama in a song that includes an eerie parlando passage in the middle. Clearly Tafur, who was born in Colombia, was also born to this music, but what really impresses is the way in which she husbands her vocal resources in the interests of complete expressivity.
For this is not a conventionally beautiful voice, but it is instinctively dramatic with an unerring feel for the right vocal shading. And the ability both to characterize a song and step inside it emotionally makes Tafur's performance of five songs by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera a delight.
However, what play on in the imagination are three songs by Modesto Bor, a woman composer from Venezuela who studied in the former Soviet Union with Khachaturian. And in particular her Noturno En Los Muelles ('Wharves Nocturne'), the last of Triptico sobre Poesia Cubana. The piano accompaniment, well judged by Nigel Foster, sounds less Russian than French - Debussy and Les Six - with masterly scene painting, the rippling of the night sea and the steady pulse of the lighthouse. But the text, with its lament for the lives that were exploited and lost in operating these wharves in this harbour, is unmistakably Latin American. As is hinted at in the accompanying booklet, and would that there had been space for a longer essay and more extensive biographical notes for the eight composers represented on this disc, it is the search for a voice that is both South American and yet acknowledges musical roots in Africa and Europe that gives so much of this music its particular creative tension.