Program 7
"The Cuban Gershwin"

MUSIC: Lecuona's Malagueña [BIS CD-754, Track 7] [UP THEN UNDER]

Virtually everyone my age or older has heard the piano piece Malagueña, but I'd be surprised if one out of 100 could name the composer. Well, it's by Ernesto Lecuona, Cuba's George Gershwin. And it is one of the masterpieces you'll hear on this edition of Compact Discoveries. My name is Fred Flaxman and I call this program "The Cuban Gershwin."

MUSIC: fades out

Lecuona, who lived from 1895 until 1963, was a contemporary of Gershwin. Lecuona knew Gershwin, although, like most everyone else, he outlived the more famous North American composer by many years. Lecuona had a Gershwinesque ability to write one gorgeous tune after another, and he 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!

BIS, a Swedish classical music label, has performed a real public service by recording the complete piano music of this very talented composer in a series of six CDs.

During this hour I'll play some highlights of these recordings for you, starting - of course - with Malagueña. The performances on this entire series of CDs is by the American pianist, Thomas Tirino.

MUSIC: Lecuona: Malagueña [BIS CD-754, track 7][3:48]

Malagueña by Ernesto Lecuona. Thomas Tirino was the pianist.

I thought it would be interesting to hear this short piece two more times. First an excerpt from the arrangement for orchestra by Morton Gould, a master orchestrator; then with the composer himself at the piano.

MUSIC: Lecuona: Malagueña performed by Morton Gould and hisOrchestra [RCA Victor 09026-68922-2, track 5][under 4:50 with introduction eliminated]

MUSIC: Lecuona: Malagueña performed by the composer [RCA Victor 09026-68671-2, track 1][3:14]

Ernesto Lecuona's Malagueña. The composer himself was at the piano. Before that, we heard the same piece performed by Morton Gould and His Orchestra.

Next let's turn to another famous piano piece by this Cuban composer. It is from the same Andalucía, Suite Española as Malagueña, and is called Andaluza. I think you'll enjoy hearing this three times as well. First in a modern, all-digital recording with pianist Thomas Tirino. Then as orchestrated and performed by Morton Gould and his Orchestra. And finally with the composer at the piano.

MUSIC: Lecuona: Andaluza with Thomas Tirino, piano [BIS CD-754, track 3] [2:14]

MUSIC: Lecuona: Andaluza with Morton Gould and His Orchestra [RCA Victor 09026-68922-2, track 4] [3:01]

MUSIC: Lecuona: Andaluza with the composer at the piano [RCA Victor 09026-68671-2, track 2] [2:16]

Three interpretations of Ernesto Lecuona's Andaluza from Andalucía, Suite Española. First Thomas Tirino performed on a BIS all-digital recording. Then we heard Morton Gould and his Orchestra from an RCA Victor CD called Lecuona Sinfónica. And finally, we heard the composer himself at the piano from another RCA Victor CD called Lecuona Plays Lecuona.

You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I'm Fred Flaxman. And today's program is called "The Cuban Gershwin." That's because, like Gershwin, Lecuona wrote lots of popular songs, but also tried his hand, quite successfully, at longer form compositions. We'll hear one of these next as Thomas Tirino is joined by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Bartos in the 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.

MUSIC: Lecuona: Rapsodia Negra for Piano and Orchestra [BIS CD-754, track 1] [10:32]

Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona's Rapsodia Negra for Piano and Orchestra was performed by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of the American conductor, Michael Bartos, and featuring the American pianist Thomas Tirino. This all came to you on a Swedish CD made in Austria. That's the global economy in action.

And this is Compact Discoveries. And I'm Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in timings]

I call this program "The Cuban Gershwin" because Lecuona, who was a contemporary of Gershwin's, also wrote popular tunes and music for the stage and films as well as a few longer, classical works. These have not become as well known as Gershwin's, but I don't think they deserve the obscurity they have suffered either, and I'm thankful to pianist Thomas Tirino and BIS recordings for renewing interest in these pieces.

Let's hear another of these longer works now, although it is not very long - only eight minutes. The Rapsodia Cubana was written in 1955 as a piece for two pianos. Later Lecuona re-thought the piece for piano and orchestra and an arrangement was made by Pablo Ruiz [Ruiss] Castellanos [Casteyanoss]. For this recording, Thomas Tirino has restored the composer's conception of the work for piano and large orchestra. He wrote in the program notes that accompany the CD that he combined the composer's original two-piano score into one part, omitting nothing, and worked out a new arrangement based on the Castellanos version, and included some new orchestration and a new percussion part.

The finale originally intended for the work was never written down, Torino notes, but was recorded by Lecuona as part of another piece, called Rapsodia Tropical. Tirino has transcribed this material from the composer's recording, and re-inserted it into the work we are about to hear.

The piece is essentially a pot-pourri of some of Cuba's best-known traditional melodies. Though not using original themes, Tirino points out, Lecuona - like many other composers who wrote music based on traditional or folkloric melodies - combines the material as a rhapsody for piano and orchestra in a fresh and original manner.

Despite all the musicians who were involved with this work, it comes out sounding like pure Lecuona. I think you'll enjoy it.

MUSIC: Lecuona: Rapsodia Cubana for Piano and Orchestra [BIS CD-794, track 1] [8:13]

Ernesto Lecuona's Rapsodia Cubana for Piano and Orchestra, performed by Thomas Tirino at the piano with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Bartos.

I'm going to devote the rest of this hour to some more of Lecuona's music for solo piano. I find these pieces charming, delightful, and, altogether a pleasure to listen to. They remind me of the output of the Spanish composers Enrique Granados and Isaac Albeniz, the American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and the Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth, all of whom are or will be subjects of other Compact Discoveries programs.

In their day the piano pieces by Lecuona were considered popular, and many of them were. But, with these definitive interpretations by Thomas Tirino, which include some world première 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 these Lecuona albums are as light and immediately enjoyable as Strauss waltzes.

MUSIC: Lecuona: Canto Siboney with Thomas Tirino, piano [BIS CD-754, track 22] [2:49]

MUSIC: Lecuona: Siboney with Morton Gould and his Orchestra [RCA Victor 9026-68922-2, track 9] [3:58]

The music of Ernesto Lecuona. Canto Siboney was first performed by pianist Thomas Tirino; then by Morton Gould and his Orchestra.

Next Tirino plays one of Lecuona's most serious compositions, Ante El Escorial - an impressionistic tone-painting of the magnificent structure built by King Philip the Second in Madrid. The middle section has one of the most beautiful and romantic melodies ever written, which is why I chose to play it for you today.

MUSIC: Lecuona: Ante El Escorial [BIS CD-754, track 8] [4:37]

Ante El Escorial by Ernesto Lecuona. Thomas Tirino was the pianist.

The next piece is Danza Negra, which is one of Lecuona's Danzas Afro-Cubanas. Although the Afro-Cuban Danses were composed separately, they were later compiled into a set. Danza Negra depicts dance steps of a charming and graceful Afro-Cuban woman.

MUSIC: Lecuona: Danza Negra [BIS CD-794, track 3] [1:59]

Danza Negra by Ernesto Lecuona.

MUSIC: Lecuona: Aragonesa [BIS CD-754, track 10] [3:48]

Thomas Tirino performing Aragonesa by Ernesto Lecuona concludes our tribute today to "The Cuban Gershwin." I hope you enjoyed these selections, and that you'll feel free to send your comments on this program to me in care of this station. Or e-mail me at That's - all one word with no spaces, capitals, hyphens or dashes.

MUSIC: Lecuona: La Habanera [BIS CD-754, track 16] [2:47] [Up, then under the following]

Compact Discoveries is made possible by the members of WXEL-FM and the financial support of Barry and Florence Friedberg, Maurice and Thelma Steingold and an anonymous donor. The program was written, produced, recorded, and edited by your guide, Fred Flaxman, and is a production of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.


  ©2009 Compact Discoveries