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Carlos Félix López Buchardo (1881-1948)

LAST WEEK* I heard a lovely recital from rising tenor Paul Appleby, who was accompanied by the brilliant pianist and vocal coach Steven Blier. It was part of the Marilyn Horne Foundation’s On Wings of Song series, which showcases young talent.

Appleby, who is in his first year of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Development Program, and also continuing his studies at The Juilliard School, sang songs by a diverse group of artists, including Edvard Grieg, Benjamin Britten and Albert Roussel.  Also on the program were songs by the Argentinean composer Carlos Lopez Buchardo, who had studied with Roussel in France, before returning to Argentina.

The Buchardo songs were sensational: keenly felt mini-dramas about overwhelming loss, overwhelming passion, overwhelming excitement. Like many Latin songs, they feature a narrator for whom a surfeit of emotion is only the very beginning of feeling. At the risk of stereotyping, where a French song such as one by Roussel, might observe a scene and the characters within it and speculate on the nature of love, Latin art songs tend to be utterly direct, with a message that might be translated simply as: “I loved you, you left me, I want to die.” Appleby sang them with full-throated fervor and righteous anguish. It’s rare that one hears that kind of unbridled passion at a lieder recital. But it’s also rare that one hears much Latin American music at lieder recitals.

Blier for his part has done a lot to introduce these songs to non-Latin audiences, through his invaluable New York Festival of Song. He has included wonderful zarzuela songs in several of his concerts, built concert programs around Latin composers and convinced many of the singers with whom he has worked, such as Appleby and the soprano Jennifer Aylmer among others, to include them in their repertoire. May these songs find a wider hearing: We non-Latin North Americans are missing out on a treasure of sensational material.

Perhaps because the musical tradition regarding song recitals in this country, as well as much of Europe, has centered on the output of German and French composers, and songs in those languages, many non-Latin singers haven’t thought to explore this vibrant repertoire.

In the past, Latin singers such as Victoria de los Angeles recorded Spanish-language material, including Vicente Lleo and M.F. Caballero, while Jose Curas recorded an album featuring Buchardo’s music.

More recently, the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez released Sentiemento Latino, featuring songs by composers including the Puerto Rican Noel Estrada, the Colombian Carlos Gardel, the Peruvian Chabuca Granda, the Mexicans Maria Grever and Agustin Lara, the Venezuelan Pedro E. Gutierrez and the Cuban Ernesto Lecuona, a veritable survey of Latin American popular music styles.

And these are only in Spanish. There’s also a wealth of Brazilian music that most of us have not heard.

As more well-known singers explore their ethnic heritage – Bryn Terfel, for instance, is releasing an album of music from the British Isles, called Scarborough Fair – perhaps we will become better acquainted with some of these remarkable composers from Latin America.

It’s always great to hear songs by Schubert and Schumann and Fauré and Brahms and Wolfe, but the musical world is large, and surely the concert hall can accommodate the output of other cultures, other countries, other traditions.

* Originally pubished on Classical TV on Saturday, 31st October 2009