Spanish Love Songs. Viva El Amor

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Roméo Records
PERFORMER: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (mezzo-soprano), Joseph Kaiser (tenor), Steven Blier, Michael Barrett (piano). Jonathan Zak (piano) Sivan Rotem (soprano),
CATALOGUE NO: RomŽo Records 7256

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The Bridge CD is a live performance from the 2004 Caramoor Festival. Its star, without a doubt, is the great mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who died less than two years later.

She’s well supported, in this programme of songs from or about Spain, by the young tenor Joseph Kaiser and by a pair of pianists, of whom Michael Barrett takes the honours for fluency.

The attractive programme has been cleverly put together. Hunt Lieberson strikes form in the very first song, from Granados’s Tonadillas, with the almost circular motion of her long, shapely phrases.

Her heightened sense of expression is never in doubt, especially when her intensity is at its quietest, as in Turina’s Farruca, and you believe in her passion in a zarzuela number from Luna’s El niño judio just as you warm to her sensuousness in Ravel’s Habanera.

Worthy as Kaiser’s and Barrett’s contributions are, this is her show. The sound is a little rough at the edges and there’s not much sense of perspective, but Hunt Lieberson is utterly memorable. 

It’s perhaps very unlucky for the Argentine‑born, Israeli soprano Sivan Rotem that her CD of similar material comes out simultaneously.

Hunt Lieberson may not have the advantage of being a native Spanish speaker, but she attacks words far more clearly, though it has to be said the Roméo recording lets Rotem down by its backward placement of her voice. 

Indeed, the voice itself is on the small side and has a limited range of colour. That does not stop her applying some personality to her performances, but she runs into problems with the high tessitura found in a couple of Rodrigo’s Madrigales Amatorios.

Hers is nevertheless an interesting selection, including not only the well‑known sets by Falla, Granados and Rodrigo but rarer groups by Turina, Obradors and especially Ginastera’s Five Canciones Populares Argentinas, whose spiky harmony makes them no less appealing.

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The disc’s best feature is the accompaniment by Jonathan Zak, which is articulate and, when needed, bracingly virtuosic.