Cincinnati, OH. April 13, 2016. Watson Recital Hall. College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati.

From Latin America with Love.

Paulina Villareal, mezzo-soprano. Samuel Martin, piano. With Yang You, flute; Bryan Hansen, string bass; Carlos Camacho and Josiah Rushing, percussion

Full disclosure: this is a review that’s not supposed to be called by that name. The Book Of Rules forbids that a student recital be reviewed, not even a doctoral student recital in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts. So this is a subversive act on the part of a  writer who is about to break The Rules.

Paulina Villareal, a young, very gifted, very musical mezzo-soprano accompanied by an equally young, gifted and musical accompanist by the name of Samuel Martin offered a recital that featured eighteen songs and El Cristo llora lagrimas de sangre, a work for voice and instruments by Panamanian composer Samuel Robles.

His composition, a setting of a religious text about Christ walking away from mankind is heavy on percussion, somber in mood, using an atonal vocabulary for the voice and the melodic instruments, which, in addition to the flute and double bass, include marimba and woodblocks. The vocal soloist is called upon to negotiate a wide range, handle passages of Sprechtstimme and play several percussion instruments, all the while singing very wide intervals in the midst of high decibel outbursts of percussion. Miss Villareal performed with authority and sobriety, changing vocal colors as needed. The accompanying ensemble played without a conductor acquitting themselves with flying colors.

Silvestre Revueltas is one of Mexico’s foremost composers, and his tonal Five Songs for Children with texts by the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, achingly familiar to those of us who grew up with them as nursery rhymes, is pure delight. Revueltas avoids the obvious and the maudlin, mining instead for the Andalusian wryness and the surrealist ambiguity so prevalent in the poetry of Lorca. Miss Villareal brought a different color from her varied palette to each of these five miniatures and her pianist followed suit.

Four lush ballads by Colombian Jaime de Leon followed, proving the assertion in the program notes that de Leon’s music has influences as varied as the German Lied and the Broadway shows of the 1950’s. The singer opened up the voice to perfectly serve the romanticism of these songs, and at the piano, Samuel Martin matched her heartthrob by heartthrob.

Alberto Ginastera’s Cinco Canciones Populares Argentinas are heard more often in song recitals than almost any other Latin American vocal composition one can think of. And no wonder, the Argentine composer of so much acidy atonal music here hangs that hat, replacing it with a gaucho sombrero that allows him to tap into the toe-tapping music of the pampas with the poly-rhythms of Chacarera, Zamba and Gato and the hauntingly still Lullaby and Triste. Once more Paulina Villareal opened up her voice to full capacity at climatic moments and pulled it back to a most effective mezza-voce in Cancion de Cuna.

In their final group, the mezzo-soprano and her chameleonic pianist brought out four sentimental and unapologetically melodious salon songs by the Cuban Eduardo Sanchez de Fuentes. In La volanta Villareal sang with allure about a daytime tryst with a boyfriend, in Vivir sin tus caricias, Deseo and Corazon she mused about love requited and not, singing with musicality and elegance, with the ever resourceful Martin phrasing the way one imagines composer Sanchez de Fuentes would have wanted.

The sizeable audience brought the artists out several times, obviously wanting an encore, something one wishes were not completely forbidden by The Book of Rules.


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