Fernando Machado Soares

Portugal: Le Fado de Coimbra

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Fado has often been compared to the blues. But while both forms strive to make sadness into a transcendent aesthetic experience and both owe much to folk music, the Coimbra fado at least owes much more to classical and liturgical sources than the blues does, not surprising since it was synthesized out of diverse influences by students at the University of Coimbra in the 19th century. In any case the songs on this live collection are less heartbroken than some other fados and instead are more in the nature of gorgeous ballads, full of dignified yearning. The "Ballad of Farewell" is so sweet and sad it melts the heart, and the audience's singing along on the choruses for once adds to the mood.

The singer is one of the greatest living fadistas. He is possessed of a distinctive, even strange tenor voice, rather operatic for a "folk" singer. In fact, making allowances for age, language, and material, he sounds almost exactly like British art song tenor Nigel Rogers, both in level of refinement and the oddness of his vocal timbre. The guitarists backing Soares play the Portuguese 8- or 12-string guitar and the classical guitar. The lead Portuguese guitar player, Jose Pontes Rocha, delivers a wonderful instrumental composition of his own, a set of variations in d minor.

This album would make two different audiences happy: first, those who are interested in fado and its kin (like the music of Cesaria Evora) and second, those who are fond of the art song tradition and would like to hear an exotic variation on it.

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