Review of LNT119: Lecuona: Ernesto and Ernestina
Douglas Cooksey, Classical Source
One of the joys of reviewing is when something totally delightful and worthwhile turns up unexpectedly from a 'small' label and features an artist, here Clélia Iruzun, who deserve to be better known. Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963) is hardly a household name, either - unless one is an aficionado of Cuban music - but he was a prolific composer (over 400 songs) with a wonderful melodic gift. He was also a moving spirit in Havana's musical life in the first half of the last century, founding the Havana Symphony Orchestra as well as a dance-band called Orquesta Cubana, later renamed Lecuona Cuban Boys. After Castro's take-over in 1959 Lecuona moved to the States, dying in the Canaries in 1963 whilst on a holiday to attend a concert in his honour.
Musically, his sophisticated and technically demanding piano pieces succeed in blending Afro-Cuban rhythms with what, for want of a better description, is called Western Art music, and in that respect he could be called one of the first genuine 'crossover' composers. His elder sister, Ernestina, was also a pianist, giving recitals throughout Latin America and she too composed songs, some of which figure on this recording as arrangements.
The music on this release is a mix of Ernesto's more substantial piano works specially written - the Suite Andalucia, for example, its sixth movement being the well-known Malagueña - and arrangements of songs such as Siempre en mi corazón and Ernestina's No lo dudes.
As they say in the States: "If it ain't got that swing, it don't mean a thing". Fortunately, in the young London-based Brazilian pianist Clélia Iruzun, the Lecuonas find an ideal performer. The music's hypnotic and sensuously seductive rhythms come as second nature to her - and are almost an invitation to dance - whilst the more pianistically challenging works find her fully equal to their considerable technical demands. This is by no means Iruzun's first recording, and she has received guidance from, amongst others, Nelson Freire and Stephen Kovacevich.
Produced by Odaline de la Martinez and dedicated to her mother for having inculcated a love of Cuba despite exile, this release is clearly a labour of love. Well recorded and stylishly presented (save for not mentioning session dates), this issue deserves the widest currency, and would make an ideal gift. Buy yourself one, too!