On a visit to Havana in December of 2015 I had the opportunity to hear an impromptu informal concert by the superb chamber choir Coro Vocal Leo. The group’s leader, Corina Campos gave us a gift of their CD, a sampler of 18 tracks featuring a cross-section of the group’s wide-ranging repertoire.
The sopranos dominate the melody with a sweet upper range sound in Chanchullo, Lagrimas negras and El Manisero but in typical Cuban fashion, a mezzo-soprano, the sassy Caterine Garrido chimes in an earthy belt that reminds the listener of the pop roots of much of this music.
Leo Brouwer, unarguably the dean of contemporary Cuban composers, provides three selections from his collection of De Rondas, refranes y trabalenguas – a brace of rhythmically complex tongue twisters based on children’s songs and fables. The Coral Leo group is spot-on, flawless in pitch in passages that skirt tonality and always vocally solid, with a plush sound all its own.
Roberto Valera – a name unknown to me before hearing three of his songs –The Young Girl is Very Quiet, Do you know a fire that gives off no heat? and A Very Fast Dance, writes in a vibrantly modern, melodic idiom that rightfully belongs in and embraces the world of concert music for choir for which he writes.
Guido López-Gavilán provides three charming numbers for the group: the languorous Nostalgias de Serenatas, the percussive mambo Qué Rico é that turns the singers into a rhythm section as good as that of any orchestra, and the sensually chromatic Yo no quiero mas luz que tu cuerpo which draws from the group a cool instrumental sound devoid of any obstructive vibrato.
Buenos Aires, Hora Zero, in an arrangement for choir by Nestor Zadoff sung so idiomatically that one does not for a moment miss the original instrumental version of Astor Piazzola.
Venezuelan Modesta Bohr authored the rapturous La Mañana Ajena and Manuel Briceño penned the stunning Prelude and Fugue, Oiga, compa é, both of them getting a brilliant delivery by the group.
The spirituals Wade in the Water, I want Jesus and Glory, glory, glory to the new-born King are sung by the group with a fervor that, Cuban in its rhythmic underpinning and roots, still crosses the waters that divide us from the isle 90 miles from our shores and reaches out in a uniting musical embrace that touches the listener.
The engineering of the CD is good, though sadly not credited. The packaging is lacking in background information and composers’ bios. But the music-making is classy and bold and leaves one longing for an American label to re-release this CD in the USA.
Any takers out there?
Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com
Listen to the Grupo Vocal Leo in this version of Lagrimas Negras: https://youtu.be/DYvoIwHM6xY