Lecuona: The Cuban Gershwin

Copyright © Fred Flaxman, 1997


Virtually everyone my age or older has heard of the piano piece Malaguena, but not one out of 100 could name the composer. Well, it's Ernesto Lecuona, Cuba's George Gershwin. And it is one of the masterpieces you'll hear on Ernesto Lecuona: The Complete Piano Music, Volume 1 (BIS CD-754).

Lecuona (1895-1963) was a contemporary of Gershwin, who Lecuona knew, although, like everyone else, he outlived the more famous North American composer by many years. He had a Gershwinesque ability to write one gorgeous tune after another, and composed 406 songs, 176 piano pieces, 53 theater works, 31 orchestral scores, 6 compositions for piano and orchestra, 3 violin works, a trio, 5 ballets and 11 film scores!

This recording, along with the others in this new series, commemorates the centenary of Lecuona's birth, and includes every piece he ever wrote for piano. The performances are by Thomas Tirino, joined by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Bartos in the first selection, the ten-minute, 1937 composition, Rapsodia Negra for Piano and Orchestra. If this wasn't inspired by Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, I don't know what was. But it is, frankly, the piece I like least in Volume 1.

The piano solos are charming, delightful, and, altogether a pleasure to listen to. They remind me of the output of the Spanish composers Enrique Granados, as performed by Alicia de Larrocha (London 414 557-2 and 410 288-2), and Isaac Albeniz, as played by Pierre Huybregts (Centaur CRC 2231); American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, as performed by Eugene List (Vanguard OVC 4050/51); and the Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth, as presented by Arthur Lima (Pro Arte CDD 512) -- all of which I highly recommend. I got so excited about Nazareth's piano pieces when I first heard them that I wrote my very first CD column to tell the world how wonderful this music was!

In their day the piano pieces by Lecuona were considered popular, and many of them were. You may recognize other tunes in addition to Malaguena. But, with these definitive interpretations by Tirino, which include some world premiere recordings, the works of Ernesto Lecuona now join the catalog of classical music, where they definitely belong. Classical music doesn't always have to be heavy and serious, as Johann Strauss taught us long ago. For the most part, the pieces on this Lecuona album are as light and immediately enjoyable as a Strauss waltz.


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