Lopez, Posnak celebrate Lecuona’s art in style

By Lawrence Budmen

Sandra Lopez performed songs of Ernesto Lecuona with pianist Paul Posnak Saturday night at St. Martha's Church in Miami Shores.

Sandra Lopez performed songs of Ernesto Lecuona with pianist Paul Posnak Saturday night at St. Martha’s Church in Miami Shores.

Ernesto Lecuona was Cuba’s most famous and prolific composer. His output encompassed more than 400 songs, 53 zarzuelas, innumerable piano pieces, numerous cantatas and orchestral works. The scores for many of Lecuona’s most ambitious creations (including his masterpiece – the Afro-Cuban zarzuela El Cafetal) are not available outside of Cuba.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Lecuona’s death. Veteran Miami-based pianist and University of Miami Frost School of Music professor Paul Posnak and soprano Sandra Lopez teamed on Saturday night to open the Saint Martha-Yamaha Concert Series in Miami Shores with “To Lecuona With Love,” a celebration of the composer’s distinguished contribution to Latin American culture.

In his comments to a full house in the spacious Saint Martha sanctuary, Posnak noted that published editions of Lecuona’s songs and piano vignettes are often simplified, the rhythms strict and the keyboard dovetailing the vocal lines. Recordings of Lecuona’s own performances are totally at variance with these scores. The composer freely improvised, channeling jazzy riffs and contemporary classical harmonics into highly imaginative versions of his pieces.

Posnak has made and recorded new arrangements that he believes are closer to the spirit of Lecuona’s own work. Posnak has already received considerable acclaim for his transcriptions of the music of Fats Waller and other blues and ragtime-era composers. His Lecuona arrangements are no less innovative, offering Lisztian octaves, elegant cocktail piano strophes and hot jazz improvisations.

Lopez is a University of Miami graduate and winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and Luciano Pavarotti Competition. In recent years she has sung major Verdi and Puccini roles on European opera stage

From the first bars of El Dulcero (“Salesman of the Sweets”), Lopez’s high, clear voice and clear intonation was matched by her instinctive sense for the rhythmic pulse and flow of Lecuona’s distinctive songs. Siempre en mi Corazon (“Always in My Heart,” a 1942 Academy Award nominee which lost out to Irving Berlin’s White Christmas) was assayed with ardor, Posnak adding engaging cha-cha beats. The singer turned dramatic for Cancion del Amore Triste (“Song of Sad Love”), Lopez’s chest voice judiciously utilized to convey emotion, concluding twith a long held high note. The familiar Siboney was infused with sultry habanera rhythm and Yo No Se Porque (“I Don’t Know Why”), one of Lecuona’s most memorable tunes, spotlighted Lopez’s rich middle range.

Between Lecuona sets, Lopez and Posnak gave a superb reading of Poema en Forma del Canciones by Spanish composer Joaquin Turina, one of Lecuona’s mentors. This song cycle is nothing short of a minor masterpiece. Turina was greatly influenced by French impressionism during his studies in Paris and the opening keyboard Dedication offers swatches of Andalusian color through an impressionistic haze.

Lopez almost sounded like a mezzo transmitting the sadness of “Nunca olvida” (Never forget). Turning on a dime, her bright coloratura lit up the flamenco cadenzas of “Cantares.” Lopez’s purity of sound transmitted the anguished pathos of “Los Dos Miedos” (“The Two Fears”) before a martial finale. These superbly conceived songs are matched by a dissonant, harmonically rich keyboard palette which Posnak registered with pastel coloration and emotive eloquence.

More Lecuona brought the romantic glow of “Como Arullo de Palmas” (“Like a Lullaby of the Palms”) and the title song from the zarzuela Rosa La China, sung at rapid clip by Lopez with intimate simplicity, refreshingly free of the overt sentimentality of some renditions. For her encore Lopez lightly floated the familiar melody of “Maria La O.”

In piano interludes Posnak offered the ragtime syncopated “Desangano” and, with the Yamaha lid fully raised, an elegant, romantically sweeping reading of Cordoba, a vignette filled with enough memorable themes for a Hollywood soundtrack. The entire program was beautifully chosen, played and sung with fine artistry and fervor.

The Saint Martha-Yamaha Concert Series continues 7:30 pm December 7 with a Christmas concert by the Spanish Brass. 305-458-0111; saintmartha.tix.com.

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Sun Nov 17, 2013
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