Two Cuban choral groups: Schola Cantorum Coralina and Vocal Luna, one led by Alina Orraca, and the other by Maribel Nodarse Valdés, lend their voices to an intriguingly varied collection of choral compositions by international composers in the Ansonica CD CORO DEL MUNDO (ar 0008)

Both ensembles deftly handle the improvisatory passages in several of the tracks, with the all-women Vocal Luna creating dazzling instrumental sounds with its voices in José Antonio Méndez’s Cemento, Ladrillo y Arena and Schola Cantorum shining in Conrado Monier’s hip-swaying setting of Nicolas Guillén’s Canto del bongó, and again in Guido López Gavilán delightfully funky Que rico é, with soprano Karen Cruz Atin as the sterling soloist.

Adalberto Álvarez rhythmically driven homage to Cuba’s capital Gozando en la Habana lets Schola Cantorum Coralina and its spunky vocal soloist David Delgado Ruiz cut loose with some very funny, very sexy Havana urban jibe, and riff on the plentiful double-entendres in the lyrics.

Vocal Luna nails the laid back syncopations of the politically charged son Dance to the Revolution and the lively Where Everything is Music both by the prolific L. Peter Deutsch, with the ensemble singing idiomatically in American English.

The all-female Vocal Luna vies for the theft of the show: the sopranos commanding a full palette of colors that ranges from the ethereal and wispy to the voluptuous and womanly, and in several of the tracks sustaining above the staff tessitura with a firmly controlled vibrato.

The altos are rock solid, with plenty of Caribbean earthiness in their generous tone. A pair of them imitate muted trumpets only to then turn on a dime and deliver a jazzy vibrato-less sound, not unlike that of the legendary Swingle Singers.

The women of both ensembles hum and sing perfectly on pitch, at times adopting a characteristically Cuban form of Sprechtstimme. They deliver pure beauty of sound in Rafael Hernández’s Silencio, in Electo Rosell’s Murmullo, in the intriguingly polytonal At the Edge of Great Quiet, a three-part mini-cantata by Cynthia Folio, and in the touchingly melodic tripartite Sacred Rights, Sacred Song by J. A. Kavarsky, a piece with potent lyrics by Fran Gordon.

Both ensembles tap into great texts for several selections. Cuba’s poet laureate Nicolas Guillen’s Caminando, is given a superb reading of the moody setting by Michael Murray. Emma Goldman’s Dance to the Revolution, is set to rousing music by L. Peter Deutsch, and the 19th century Cuban poet and patriot Juan Clemente Zenea’s El Lunar is integral to a very fine musical setting by Michael Murray. All three works evidence the comfortably eclectic aesthetic of both their composers and their interpreters.

Kudos are due to the top-notch instrumentalists that accompany both ensembles in several of the tracks: Vilma Sofia Garriga (piano), Lazaro Rivera (bass), David Delgado Ruiz (tenor sax), Abiel Chea Guerra (percussion), Asaf Roth (dunbek and vibraphone), and Flavia Mendez Pérez (clarinet).

There is an open minded musical diversification in the choice of compositions for this CD. There is also a purposeful commitment to an artistic philosophy that embraces the ideals of peace and brotherhood through music, here most eloquently expressed in Meira Warshauer’s We Are Dreamers, the compelling composition with lyrics in Hebrew from Psalm 126 that brings this CD to a profoundly moving closing.

Here’s hoping, as we enter 2019, for more peaceful music brought to us all by Ansonica from Cuba to bring us all closer together.

Rafael de Acha

Listen to a trailer of this CD on



I just listened for the third time to ESPONTANEO (Ansonica ar0011), a CD which Ansonica Records recorded at the Abdala Studio just outside Havana this past year.

It features three awesomely talented Cuban musicians, starting with the mega-guitarist Dayron Ortega Guzman alternating with the recently “discovered” tres player Maykel Elizarde. Eduardo Silveira is the unflagging percussionist who provides the driving rhythm for all nine tracks on this CD.

The three friends have much in common, starting with the spontaneity of the album’s title. They also have unending energy that flows throughout the album’s selection of congas, boleros, mambos, and puntos guajiros, all traditional Cuban musical forms into which the three musicians inject a wonderfully laid back improvisatory feel.

In Influencia, a Brazilian chorinho, Elizarde creates dazzling filigree work on his tres. He again gets a favored spot when he closes the CD with a fabulous five minute improvisation at times redolent of Andean music.

The tunes flow, traveling from the urban sound of the now melancholy, now jazzy Mambo Influenciado of Chucho Valdés to the old country classic zapateado Jugando con la Nota. The legendary Fajardo y sus Estrellas provides the familiar Guajireando.

Track 4 features an impressively improvised nine minute long tour de force for the three musicians who get to engage in a competitive but lovingly friendly musical mano a mano.

This is as they say in Spanish for emphasis, punto y aparte one of the best albums of Cuban music I have heard in quite some time. Co-produced by Ortega Guzman and Ansonia’s Bob Lord, and engineered with clarity by José Raul Varona, Espontaneo is a keeper.

Rafael de Acha



My father (may he rest in peace) never stopped telling me how much he disliked an arrangement of Ernesto Lecuona’s Siboney that the late great René Touzet wrote for my wife and me way back in our singing days. I understood. Old generation Cubans don’t like to mix it up, and my father grew up listening and dancing to the music of Lecuona’s Cuban Boys.

Papi would have probably recoiled in horror upon listening to Arthur Gottschalk’s off-the-wall arrangement of Moisés Simon’s The Peanut Vendor, which opens Chévere, a CD with a mix of Cuban-inflected tunes and contemporary compositions created by Gottschalk, John A. Carollo, Meira Warshauer, Mona Lyn Reese, and J. A. Kawarsky for a terrific group of musicians who came together in January of 2017 to record this album for Ansonica Records.

By the way, I did no recoiling of any sort but sat fascinated listening to some really cool playing that mixed the forthright work of Leyvis Lopez Wilvert on drums and Eduardo Silveira on congas and batá, with crystal-clear French horn playing by Pedro Luis Gonzalez Garcia, Dania Pérez Fonseca, Moisés Hernandez Dumenigo, and Carlos David Guerra Sertano, with both Vilma Sofia Garriga Comas at the keyboard, and Rubén Gonzalez on bass providing solid underpinning.

Much of the music included in this fascinating CD explores the outer edges of a kind of contemporary concert music anchored in a 20th century sensibility redolent of late Stravinsky at its most daring. But then one hears the work of Silveira on congas and batá and one is momentarily and happily thrown off balance. What are they doing? Well, whatever that is… I love it!

Meira Warshauer sets the three Israeli language texts that are part of Akhat Sha’alti to a fairly tonal language which is impeccably handled by the rock-solid female voices of Schola Cantorum Coralina. A couple of tracks later we again hear from her with Oseh Shalom, a poignant plea for peace sensitively sung by the full ensemble of Coralina.

La Habana, Mi Amor!, an interesting setting of three lyrics by Mona Lyn Reese about the kind of love that begins in the kitchen and ends up in the bedroom, is actually a sassy three-part cantata that Kat Parra, an engaging chanteuse with a soprano timbre and a sexy, come-hither vocal delivery sings accompanied by a group of superb jazzmen.

Son de la loma by Miguel Matamoros and again Moisés Simon’s The Peanut Vendor are given a rousing medley by a trio with the typical rural Cuban country mix of Mykel Elizarde’s tres, Yaiel’s lute, and Dayron Ortega’s guitar, with Eduardo Silveira on claves and gourd.

My family, all of them from Oriente, the mountainous Matamoros birthplace would have been pleased. I was, playing the track over several times.

The CD ends with J. A. Kawarsky’s Grace Dances, a lovely, poetic chamber composition generously lyrical in its use of strings and woodwinds that impressively brings the album to a gentle closing.

A panoply of music, some vocal, some choral, some son montuno, some afro-jazz, some traditional, Chévere is a treat that will keep the collector of world music pleased and the lover of Cuban music swaying the hips and moving the feet.

José Raul Cancino ably engineered the album, mercifully avoiding the claustrophobic sound that often plagues recordings of chamber music.

Rafael de Acha


340px-Ramon_Casas_-_MNAC-_Isaac_Albéniz-_027630-D_006622Peter Schaaf

The royalty of Spanish musicians is populated by quite a few Catalan composers and interpreters. Let us salute the music of Enrique Granados, Francisco Obradors, Federico Mompou, Eduard Toldrà, Xavier Montsalvatge, and Isaac Albéniz.

Let us also honor the memories of some great interpreters of the music of Isaac Albeniz: Jorge Bolet… Alicia de Larrocha… And then let us tip our hat and add to that list the name of the immensely gifted Peter Schaaf

Listen closely to Schaaf’s commanding playing of the music of Isaac Albéniz, and you will perceive the minor modes of the Moors, the Celtic at the core and gaily Galician muiñeiras, with the piano merrily mimicking the blaring of the bagpipes that the gallegos inherited from their Irish cousins and renamed gaitas.

There is in Schaaf’s playing the soulful wailing about fate and life and death and heartbreak that is the lifeblood of the cantejondo chants of the gypsies.

The youth and early career of our composer were colorfully chaotic: studies in Switzerland, Brussels, tours as a piano prodigy in South America, a love affair in Cuba and another with Cuba itself, before he settled down as a happily married family man. His music reflects all of that.

Early on he found gigs as a composer of salon pieces which some critics might scoff at but which he quietly loved, calling them full of… “color, sunlight, (and the) flavor of olives…” He even had a fling with operettas while living and working in London.

But the piano was his instrument and he mostly wrote for it.

Quintessentially Spanish, unpredictable in their harmonic changes, deeply inflected by the various folk strains that make up the Spanish musical DNA, the piano works of Albéniz contain all that is Iberian in the music of his native country.

There are Catalan sardanas and Basque jotas, there are zapateados and sevillanas from Andalusia. Listen closely to Schaaf’s playing and your feet will tap to the rhythm of a Cuban habanera. There are even passages seemingly inhabited by waltzing figures of the imagination.

Rhythmic to the core, much of Spanish music is dance-inspired music. Albéniz distills the Spanish 6/8: 3/4 hemiola pattern into a heartbeat that brings to life several of the pieces that make up the four books of Iberia.

The pianistic obstacle course that is Iberia calls for a protean artist who can overcome the pitfalls built into the music and transcend them with a poetic sensibility, with an unerring instinct for color, with the self-assurance to pull back when lingering is wanted and then push forward with resolute energy.

Peter Schaaf is that and more.

Don’t even bother to discuss the technical hurdles: Schaaf solves them one by one and then boldly moves forward to make the music speak for itself. His playing is muscularly virile and soulful and evocative and unencumbered by fussy detail work. Schaaf focuses instead on the big picture. The music of Albéniz resonates throughout this gem of a CD and coalesces in Peter Schaaf’s hands into a heady blend of all things Spanish.

Schaaf is no miniaturist. He is a muralist.

On one track Schaaf eerily brings to life the expansive musical landscape of El Corpus en Sevilla with its inexorable Catholic procession of penitent pilgrims and its accompanying saetas, as if he had a full orchestra inside his head and another at the tips of his fingers.

He then moves comfortably to the rustic dance charms of Rondeña. Schaaf changes colors with chameleonic precision.

Throughout the 12 tracks of this gem of a CD there’s no wasted moment or missed opportunity. After an astonishing two-decade absence from the keyboard Peter Schaaf made his comeback with Iberia.

That does not make any logical sense, but then Schaaf’s artistry is not logical. It is simply magical.

Rafael de Acha

Iberia is available directly from


Listen to Peter Schaaf play Evocación from Iberia: