The music of Carlos Guastavino, little known outside of his native Argentina, is on the upswing as performers and audiences explore Argentina's wide continuum of music between "classical" and "popular" poles. Although he wrote piano pieces and larger works, it is his songs that are most familiar. This disc, by New York-born, Argentina-raised mezzo-soprano Désirée Halac, makes a great starting point for those interested in hearing more of Guastavino's music. Halac has the rich, stage-sized voice to handle Guastavino's songs, which can stand more power than most contemporary art songs. Further, she isn't afraid of the popular rhythms in Guastavino's music, which touches on tango but is likelier to draw on the Argentine folk song types collectively known as creole. Halac is perfectly attuned to Guastavino's way of setting complex poetry by the likes of Jorge Luís Borges. Guastavino, a conservative (although who now can claim that the twentieth century composers who drew on popular styles weren't really the most progressive of all?), merged his Argentine influences with a harmonic language rooted above all in that of Fauré, but he had something of Schubert's uncanny way of finding a simple tune to complement an involved thought. Hear Se equivocó la paloma (The Dove Was Mistaken, track 4), to a text of romantic disorientation by the Spanish-Argentine poet Rafael Alberti; in Halac's hands it's nothing less than an unknown art song masterpiece. The one complaint here is the booklet, which simply reproduces an obituary of Guastavino from the London Guardian newspaper and contains no indication of how the songs included fit into the composer's career. Accompanist Dalton Baldwin works at a very high level of empathy with Halac's thinking.
Flores Argentinas: Canciones de Carlos Guastavino Review
by James Manheim