Cruz Montero Plays Cuban Composers

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LECUONA: Danzas Afro-Cubanas (exc.) Suite Andalucía. FARIÑAS: Sones Sencillos. Alta Gracia. ALÉN: Variations on Silvio Rodríguez’s Theme. Emiliano / Yamilé Cruz Montero, pno / Grand Piano GP758

Having been greatly impressed by Yamilé Cruz Montero’s stupendous new album, Rapsodia Cobana, I poked around the Naxos Library and, lo and behold, came across this album from 2017 that I somehow missed.

Since this is a “pure” classical album and does not use percussion, the vibe is clearly more serious in tone. Interestingly, Cruz Montero’s piano is not miked the same way; the exciting, almost steel drum attack one heard on her new album is softened here. But she still plays like a woman possessed, digging into these pieces—particularly the opening Afro-Cuban dances of Ernesto Lecuona—with great joie-de-vivre.

As for the Suite Andalucía, this, too is played with great energy. Those of us older folk will immediately recognize the second piece from this suite, “Andaluza,” as the music slowed down years ago and turned into the pop song “The Breeze and I.”

But this is not to suggest that Cruz Montero plays it, or any other piece on this album, like pop music. As I said, this is very much her serious side as an artist, and she shows a remarkable sense of coloration, pacing and phrasing here. Yet in a few spots, i.e. the middle section of “Alhambra,” she again almost plays the piano as if it were a steel drum. Her rhythms bounce and swing; she proves the value of having an authentic Latin pianist playing this music. Just listen, for instance, to the way “Gitaneiras” rolls off her keyboard as if the notes had a life of their own.

From Lecuona we move on to the somewhat more modern music of Carlos Fariñas (1934-2002) who, sadly, spent most of his life under the thumb of the Communist oppressors of Cuba. Perhaps this is one reason why his music is only moderately more modern harmonically than that of Lecuona, but it is not without interest. Fariñas had his own manner of handling the rhythms of his native country in his pieces, as one will immediately notice in Son Sencillo No. 2, that is not metromically regular in meter. Yet this is nothing compared to No. 5, in which Fariñas gets involved in some very complex rhythmic work that I feel would confuse many a non-Latin pianist, particularly when he uses two voices opposing one another on top of it. The same composer’s Alta Gracia is a strange piece leaning towards atonality but never quite arriving there. It opens at a slow tempo but eventually gets into some Cuban boogie woogie, the bass being played eight to the bar but with extended harmony.

The opening of Alén’s Variations on Silvio Rodriguez’ Theme is unimpressive, sounding just like some innocuous popular tune, and although there are some interesting features in the variations there are only a few where he crosses voices and makes it more complex. Plus, it goes on for 15 minutes. By contrast, however, I did enjoy the same composer’s Emiliano, a piece built around an asymmetrical rhythmic base and using moving chromatics in the harmony.

A very good recital, then, marred (in my opinion only) by the Variations of Alén. Well worth seeking out.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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