The Music of Valdo Sciammarella. Songs and chamber music from Argentina. Diane McNaron, soprano; Heather Coltman, piano. Karen Bentley Pollick, violin; Melanie Richardson Rogers, viola; Craig Hultgren, cello; Adam Bowles, piano. Hoot/Wisdom Recordings, Florida Atlantic University. 2008.
This CD was sent to me by soprano Diana McNaron and it is a precious document of a very good cross-section of Valdo Sciammarella´s chamber production. It is also an act of homage from USA musicians to a valuable Argentine composer.
There are a few good records of Argentine vocal music that have had international distribution, such as those of tenor Raúl Giménez and baritone Víctor Torres. And local Argentine labels such as IRCO and Tradition, as well as Miami-based but Argentine-run Testigo, have given us an interesting discographical repertoire. But in this case it is the welcome and meritorious production of a Florida university and American interpreters that have obviously done a labor of love on behalf of a South American creator.
Valdo Sciammarella was born in 1924, so he is now in his late eighties. Both as teacher, pianist, choir conductor and composer, he has done an immense job over the decades, especially at the Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires.
The pieces selected in the CD come from the Fifties ("Dos canciones" –"Two songs"- 1952 revised 1975; "Piezas breves para piano" -"Small piano pieces"- 1956; and "Cantigas de amigo" –"Songs of my friend"- 1951), the Seventies ("Credo Quartet" for piano and strings, 1972 rev. 1979) and the Eighties ("Cuatro canciones" – "Four songs"- 1988 rev. 1997), so they provide an ample panorama of his sensibility and artisanship. A very well-filled CD, it lasts 75 minutes.
Although "Sciammarella" is an Italian family name, he has always shown much interest in Argentina´s Spanish roots. This is clearly visible in the deliberate archaism of the "Romancillo del niño perdido" ("Ballad of a lost child"). But the second of the "Dos canciones" is based on a poem by the great Chilean Pablo Neruda, beautiful but harsh; in it is the phrase that gives title to this CD, "rosas de pulpa con rosas de cal" ("soft, fleshy roses mixed with roses of limestone dust", according to Kelly Jensen´s translation in the booklet that accompanies the CD).
The "Cantigas de amigo" are quite well-known in Argentina, certainly one of the scores that established the composer´s reputation. With charming texts by Francisco Javier, poet but also a distinguished man of the theatre, it evokes the Medieval "Cantigas" (remember the great compilation "Cantigas de Alfonso el Sabio"). This is again music of subtle charm and Spanish perfume, the only score previously recorded.
The much later "Cuatro canciones" reveals a deeper, metaphysical strain in the composer´s art. An Argentine poet, Francisco Luis Bernárdez, "offers a metaphysical speculation on the permanency of Art", according to Jensen and McNaron, and I quite agree. And then, three of the famous "Rhymes" by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, a true Spanish Romantic."Si al mecer las azules campanillas de tu balcón" ("If when the blue bellflowers on your balcony sway") is traversed by the musical evocation of the wind. Then, his most often quoted rhyme, "Volverán las oscuras golondrinas" ("Once again, the dark swallows will appear"), where the swallows and then the honeysuckle are metaphors of good times past, as the poet laments the end of a love affair. Finally, "Hoy como ayer" ("Today like yesterday"), a disenchanted, bitter poem, set by the composer with tango inflexions, another deep influence on a man that has lived most of his long life in Buenos Aires.
The ten "Piezas breves" are graceful vignettes in the good tradition of the better salon music. Finally, the "Credo quartet" comes curiously enough from a ballet, written in 1972/9 but only premiered in 1990. There´s a tango flavor in the middle movement, "Allegro spiritoso"; the slow movements that begin and end the quartet are meditative, beautiful chamber music.
Sciammarella was never a revolutionary, even in his most dramatic works. In Argentina he is particularly appreciated for his enchanting opera "Marianita limeña", a comedy in colonial Lima on Palma´s "Tradiciones peruanas", with music of vernal freshness and tinged with a natural comprehension of nostalgic times.
The whole record is the work of conscientious, valuable artists. Ms McNaron comes across as a vivid soprano of splendid intonation and beautiful timbre, surely interesting to watch on stage for she has a strong dramatic sense. Only her diction could be improved, though it is clear. She is quite well accompanied by Heather Coltman. There´s also good ensemble work in the quartet.
The CD is nicely recorded, with just enough immediacy, and the booklet is well presented, with good notes on scores and poets and bilingual versions of the poems.