Giorgio Koukl | 3 AUG 2022
This new CD from Art Song Colorado, is primarily devoted to the compositional art of Gabriela Lena Frank.
Ms. Frank, with her more than mixed origins, is a perfect example of how far a musical talent can go when enough inputs are already present at the beginning of life. Being born with some heavy hearing impairment, one would think of any other possible career than that of a composer. But overcoming this initial handicap, she managed not only to develop a respectable career as a composer but as a pianist, too.
She is definitely the star of this installment in which the strange pairing of her works with the Spanish Songs, Op. 100 of Dimitri Shostakovich has a somehow difficult-to-see logic. So, let’s focus on analyzing Frank’s compositional work. In the less-than-exhaustive liner notes, only a few facts are given, so any interested listener has to do their own research on this subject.
This album confronts us with the world premiere recordings of a collection of poems written by the most intriguing poet from Nicaragua, Pablo Antonio Cuadra, called Cantos de Cifar y el Mar Dulce (“Songs of Cifar and the Sweet Sea”).
It seems there are in total 30 poems in Cuadra’s odyssey of a harp-playing mariner navigating on the internal lake of Nicaragua. Despite the commitment of Ms. Frank up to this point, only eight have been set in music and form the first eight tracks of the CD. The titles are: “El nacimiento de Cifar,” “Me diste oh Dios! una hija,” “El rebelde,” “Tomasito, el cuque,” “El Niño,” “Eufemia,” “En La Vela del Angelito,” “Pescador.”
The enormous fortune of having a baritone of Andrew Garland’s caliber to interpret this delicate music is a winning one. He is the soul of the music, and he is the one who transforms every single interpretation into a special event.
He possesses a theatrical efficacy of the voice, potent in its extension, playful in all his shadowing, and absolutely pure in intonation. He is the real matador of the disc. One cannot imagine a better interpreter for this score, which in his absence would definitely suffer.
The piano contribution, sometimes hellishly challenging and always played with great capacity by Jeremy Reger, ranges from perfectly suitable to underline the musical content to difficult to understand clusters of repeated notes, which are more of a hindrance to the emphasis of the melody than acting as an underscore. To cite just one example, in track five, called “El Niño,” which definitely has nothing to do with the world-famous meteorological phenomena but is simply a lullaby, the piano being absent totally. Well, the capacity of Ms. Frank to create a captivating melody does not at all suffer from an absence of a sustaining instrument.
It has to be said that, generally speaking, the piano contribution, while certainly creating atmosphere, is nonetheless not of great help for the singer, mainly playing against the melody rather than assisting it.
Why not? Alban Berg is not far from there, and some shadows of Wozzeck are definitely present.
The second track, “Me diste oh Dios una hicha,” is the absolute highlight. Here Ms. Frank uses a vast array of vocal techniques, nonetheless, stopping shortly before far more advanced effects, like whistling, spitting, and all the other ways of creating rumors for which, for example, Cathy Berberian was so great.
Track number nine, the longest work of the whole CD, Las Cinco Lunas de Lorca (“The Five Moons of Lorca”), sees the participation of tenor Javier Abreu. His voice is perfectly paired with baritone Garland, creating, after an ample piano introduction, a highly dramatic duet that leads to a dark, profoundly desperate, and intriguing finale. An excellent piece of music, indeed.
Four Andean Songs follows: “Desperdida,” “Yo Crio una Mosca,” “Carnival de Tambobamba,” and “Yunca.” All texts are traditional poetry of the Quechua people.
The highly spectacular second piece from these shorter songs, “Yo Crio una Mosca,” is the absolute highlight. Here, together with the great capacities of the singer to really interpret the spoken passages, all of Gabriela Lena Frank’s ironic, witty, and intelligent way of writing music fully emerge.
The Spanish Songs, Op. 100 of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich completes the CD.
These six short miniatures, sung in the original Russian language — a pity because, in total contrast to the spotlessly clean Spanish pronunciation, it is entirely not understandable to Russian-speaking people. Here a specific problem arises of lacking the necessary depth of interpretation, a real commitment, so vividly present in the other music.
But despite this minor glitch, the CD remains an impressive document of the capacity to produce seductive and fascinating music by Gabriela Lena Frank, making it an easy recommendation. ■
- Andrew Garland: andrewgarland.com
- Javier Abreu: javierabreu.com
- Jeremy Reger: jeremyreger.com
- Gabriela Lena Frank: glfcam.com/people/gabriela