Camarada, that sophisticated chamber music collective run by Beth Ross Buckley and Dana Burnett, presented a rich, emotionally charged concert Saturday (May 6) at Bread and Salt in Barrio Logan. Titled Cantos de Amor, this generous program mined that great mother lode of love-stricken songs and ballads written by Hispanic composers. Of course they rounded up the usual suspects—Manuel Ponce, Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albeniz, and Frenando Obradors—and then added less familiar lights such as Carlos Almarán and Reveriano Soutullo for good measure.If you did not tear up just a little hearing this heart-rending music, that is a sure sign you should have stayed at home working crossword puzzles or dusting bookshelves.
Pianist Burnett set the program’s tone opening with Ponce’s “Romanza de Amor,” a wistful salon piece that struck my ears as a touch of Scriabin’s gossamer textures laced with Latin rhythms. Flutist Ross Buckley continued this idiom with an arrangement of Granados’ “Spanish Dance No. 2 – Oriental” that substituted the rich-textured baritone guitar, played with customary finesse by Fred Benedetti, for piano. The combination of the flutist’s trademark robust yet supple sonority and the flare of the mellow guitar could not have been more persuasive.
Vocalist Gregorio Gonzalez’s Spanish language art songs and zarzuela arias took Cantos de Amor to another level, bringing his passion and operatic flare to this vibrant repertory of hopeless amatory adventures. His romanza “Ya mis horas felices” by Soutullo (from an early 20th-century zarzuela he wrote with Juan Vert) bristled with that toxic mixture of ardor and regret that seems to be innate to the Iberian culture. Ross Buckley and Burnett furnished sympathetic accompaniment to Gonzalez, who chose to identify himself as neither baritone nor tenor in the program notes. From his performance, I would say he sounds like a lyric tenor with an unusually dark, strong baritonal range.
The “Jota” from de Fallas’s Sietes canciones españolas populares is difficult to bring off because the rambunctuous rondo—the part that captures the vivid dance movement of the title—always seems at odds with the narration of the story. Benedetti realized the composer’s original piano accompaniment on guitar, which made it sound far more flexible and accommodating, especially in Benedetti’s skillful hands. Gonzalez recounted the male lover’s tale in the song with wry insight, and he poured unmitigated fervor into Obradors beautifully sincere love song “Del cabello más sutil.”
Albéniz’s virtuoso piano solo “Asturias” so strongly evokes the flamenco style of guitar playing he knew so well that the piece is more frequently heard in guitar transcription. Benedetti has been performing “Asturias” since he was a student, and his interpretation has only deepened in its rhapsodic intensity over the years.
Ross Buckley and Burnett feasted on the ripe Romanticism of Carl Reinecke’s “Ballade,” Op. 288 for flute and piano, although the piece did not quite fit the program’s Spanish theme. That Albéniz actually studied with Reinecke in Leipzig probably counts for something, however. Gonzalez offered three German lieder in the opening section of the program, which I found quite stylish and touching, especially Richard Strauss’ “Heimliche Aufforderung.” Like the Spanish-language art songs, this Strauss offering mixed sly humor with ardor.
The four musicians wrapped up their Cantos de Amor with another festive zarzuela aria “Historia de Amor” by Carlos Almarán and a sentimental encore, a popular song form the 1930s “Amapola.”