We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, November 19, 2018


Martin Fett, Juan Pablo Horcasitas, and Carla López-Speziale

Perhaps all of the events of the Latin American Cultural Week were wonderful but, lured by the promise of hearing songs of Spain and Latin America, the only program we attended was the one last night held at the lovely performance space of The Diller-Quaile School of Music in Carnegie Hill.

The program was devised for piano, cello, and voice. The pianist was Juan Pablo Horcasitas; the cellist was Martin Fett, and the voice belonged to the lovely mezzo-soprano Carla López-Speziale.  Interestingly, they all came out of Manhattan School of Music, whose students we are constantly reviewing.

Mr. Horcasitas "plays well with others" and teaches at the Diller-Quaile School of Music as well as performing worldwide as a soloist and collaborative pianist and as a conductor. He also released his first solo CD called "Among Songs and Dances". In this case he was the backbone of an interesting and varied program.

Since art song in Spanish is high on our list of favorite musical delights, let us focus on this part of the program. The Mexican born Ms. López-Speziale has an understandable affinity for this music and it shows in her vivid interpretations. There was no shortage of brilliance in the upper register and a great depth and security in the lower register. Moreover, she has a delightful stage presence, engaging the audience with her descriptions of the songs before she sang them.

As many times as we have heard Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Españolas, we never tire of them due to their variety of moods and rhythms. Perhaps our favorite is the mournful "Asturianas" but we also love the gentle lullaby "Nana" and the bitter "Polo" in which Mr. Horcasita's forceful playing drove the sentiment right to the gut.

The Argentinean Carlos Guastavino belonged to the 20th c. but never ignored the value of melody. "Milonga de dos hermanos" is a tragic tale of fraternal rivalry pushed to extremes.  Our favorite song of the group was "La rosa y el sauce", a lament for love lost. The text of "Se equivocó la paloma" lost us in its symbolism, but we enjoyed the lively "Mi viña de Chapanay" in which Mr. Horcasita's piano emphasized the lively story related by the singer in both voice and gesture.

Like De Falla, Xavier Montsalvatge came from Spain but belonged to a later generation. His Cinco canciones negras are about Cuba and paint a most interesting picture, not all of it happy.  The angry "Cuba dentro de un piano" was given a strong introduction by Mr. Horcasitas who sustained the vigorous rhythm throughout.  The music reflected the nostalgia found in the text.

"Punto de habanera" was filled with charm but "Chévere" was brutal. "Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito" is almost always our favorite of the cycle but "Canto negro" was filled with high spirits.

Mr. Horcasitas and Mr. Fett performed the "Intermezzo" from Enrique Granados' Goyescas and De Falla's rhythmic "Danza ritual del fuego" from El amor brujo. We've never heard these pieces arranged for piano and cello but we did say that Mr. Horcasita "plays well with others"!

As far as Astor Piazzolla's "Le grand tango", we know that the work has been adapted for several combinations of instruments but we found this particular adaptation more "interesting" than enjoyable.

As far as the contemporary song cycle by S. Zyman, who was in attendance, entitled Solamente sola, we found little for our ears to embrace. The text was as obscure in English as it was in Spanish and dealt with various forms of solitude.

As encore the three artists gave a stirring performance of "Besame mucho", the popular song composed in 1940 by the Mexican composer Consuelo Velázquez.  Having endured for nearly 80 years, it can be considered a classic!

We have a quibble that has nothing to do with the excellent performances. There was no note in the program advising the audience to hold their applause between songs and no announcement made either.  This led to constant applause interrupting each song cycle--an interruption we would have been happy to eliminate.

(c) meche kroop

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