Faro de Amor
/ Love Light
In an age when too many young singers seem intent on smoothing and moulding their natural timbre to sound just like everybody else, it's refreshing to hear Carmen Díaz Walker going against the flow. In a sense, the Puerto Rican born and Florida raised soprano gives us two individual voices for the price of one. The first is youthful, fresh and delicate, a nearly 'white' tone with little vibrato, easy and natural in the middle of the range. The second comes as a surprise - a full lyric soprano, with exciting operatic reserves above the stave and good technical support. Some may find the combination of the two, within the same song, almost the same phrase, disconcerting. Others (self included) will be thankful for the unusual contrasts of light and shade which Díaz Walker brings into play.
These songs, on the whole, are well chosen to show off her strengths. Even somebody tolerably familiar with the Spanish repertoire will find some unusual items here, and the group of Mexican songs in particular make a delightful change from maintstream Falla and Granados offerings. Blas Galindo's Madre Mía, Cuando Muera is particularly effective, a touching piece done with innocent intensity. Díaz Walker in 'white' voice mode is not technically infallible here, or elsewhere. There's the occasional raw patch of intonation, combined with instances of tonal undernourishment at the end of phrases. But these hardly detract from the musicality on offer, and in soaring operatic mode, Díaz Walker is often breathtaking.
Montsalvatge's Cinco canciones negras are not unfamiliar on disk, having been recorded by Teresa Berganza amongst others, but Díaz Walker's pristine, direct manner has the virtue of revealing the irony of the words - which deal with colonialism and the loss of Cuba - better than more stellar vocal performances. The set of Tres Poemas by Turina are equally effective, passionate love songs imbued with that peculiarly Spanish melancholy. Here as elsewhere, the singer is very well served by Alene Burch's lucid, unfussy support, and by a clean and clear recording quality to match.
Relatively speaking, her zarzuela group is more up and down. Part of the trouble is the old one of divorcing opera from the orchestra. Try though Burch might, she can't make the accompaniment to Paloma's song from El barberillo de Lavapiés sound pianistic, even at a sensibly slower tempo than you'd get in the theatre. The Letter Scene from Gigantes y Cabezudos is too rigid, missing both a sense of spontaneous thought and the ebb and flow of Pilar's emotions. There again, the Canción española from El niño judío, and best of all the fiercely demanding Sierras de Granada from La tempranica are brought off to fine effect. Díaz Walker would make a marvellous María in the latter piece, and let's hope she gets the chance to play Salud in Falla's La vida breve, too.
Burch fills out the CD with safely musical readings of familiar solos by Albeniz and Lecuona, and the disc is beautifully presented, with stylish artwork and a full synopsis of each song made by the singer herself. Altogether this well filled, well planned and well executed CD gives a deal of pleasure.