OPERA NEWS - Isabel Leonard and Brian Zeger: "Preludios"
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Isabel Leonard and Brian Zeger: "Preludios"

spacer Songs by Granados, Falla, Mompou, Montsalvatge, Sanjuán and Lorca. Texts and English translations. Delos DE 3468

Recordings Isabel Leonard Preludios Cover 815

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard explores old favorites as well as some rarities in a lively recital of Spanish song for Delos. At the piano, Brian Zeger’s colorful, bold contributions are a constant delight, whether pointing up left-hand melodies, bringing out inner voices, or toying delightfully with the Spanish dance rhythms. Leonard’s sensitivity to a song’s atmosphere finds expression in performances that are committed although somewhat generic in vocal sound and in approach.

For the opening “Sólo las flores sobre ti,” Zeger brings fresh immediacy to Federico Mompou’s sinewy, sensuous accompaniment, which the engineers have captured handsomely. Leonard’s rich, focused sound, however, is too closely miked here and for much of the recital, often registering as harsh, and at times she presses in legato or forte passages, which speeds up her vibrato unattractively.

Leonard’s easy top is displayed in the ecstatic rising phrases of “Olas Gigantes” (Immeasurable Waves), while Joaquín Valverde Sanjuán’s “Clavelitos” (Baby Carnations) shows off her easy diction, as she scampers up and down the scales of this fun display piece. In Falla’s “Oración de las Madres que Tienen a Sus Hijos en Brazos” she captures with dark timbre the pervading sorrow of mothers praying that their sons not be made soldiers, to die alone at a time unknown. 

In Falla’s well-known “Siete Canciones Populares Españolas,” Leonard labors a bit too studiously, rather than tossing off the quick turns and brief embellishments, but the slow tempo of “Asturiana” creates a gorgeous spaciousness that highlights the narrator’s weeping, and she’s not afraid to belt out the bitter lines of “Polo,” while Zeger echoes the narrator’s pain in hammering insistence. “Nana de Sevilla” is a sweet lullaby arranged by poet Federico Garcia Lorca, while his “Los Pelegrinitos” sets the same material as Falla’s “Canción.” 

Both Leonard and Zeger capture the sauciness of the Creole girl of “Punto de Habanera,” but the sweet lullaby “Canción de Cuna para Dormir a un Negrito” eludes them in a reading that sounds overthought and strained. Leonard’s voice lacks the bite or the rich chest tones needed for the harsh “Chévere” but rings out nicely for the concluding “Canto Negro.” spacer

JUDITH MALAFRONTE

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