In a program that offered the Bucharest public a glimpse into the musical soul of his native country Argentina, José Cura showcased his consummate musicianship as composer, singer, and conductor. The program alternated works composed by Cura with those of his compatriot Carlos Guastavino who has been called “the Schubert of the Pampas.” Melodic, romantic, and influenced by Argentinian folk music, Guastavino’s songs are like honey for the heart and ears, especially in Cura’s superb interpretation. In his beautiful, rich voice, the tenor played with nuances and dynamics effortlessly, creating an entire universe within each song.
Cura’s ability to paint distinctive musical worlds with sound, not only vocally but also orchestrally, manifested instantly from the beginning in his own work “Si muero, sobreviveme,” (“If I die, survive me”), based on Pablo Neruda’s eponymous sonnet—in its Romanian premiere. In this cycle of songs, interspersed with the compelling recitation in Romanian by actress Oana Berbec, Cura’s music and orchestration created an atmosphere of impossible longing that dressed the ravishing lyrics in an intense emotional charge. Most of all, it was Cura’s voice, flowing and enveloping that, in the long, mournful, passionate phrases, drew the audience into a hypnotizing musical dimension. The artistic effect was one of straddling the world of the living and that of the spirits, a transcendent yet still earthly cry for the lost loved one in wave after wave of smooth, fluid vocal legato, punctuated by unexpected turns of phrases, colors, and tonalities in the orchestration that gave a refreshing unpredictability to the musical flow of the piece.
José Cura at the Romanian Athenaeum
Cura’s other featured composition, Concierto para un Resurgir (Concert for a Resurgence) for guitar and orchestra, discovered by the artist in his early archives and finished during the pandemic, was a play on unpredictability and musical surprises. Rhythmic, jazzy and bluesy at times, structurally complex, it proved an exceptional showcase for the exquisite virtuosity of Czech guitarist Barbora Kubíková who handled her instrument and Cura’s nimble music with both nonchalance and passion. The Romanian Radio Chamber Orchestra responded with musical sensitivity and attention to Cura’s conducting, here as throughout the entire concert.
Among the most famous pieces of the evening, Guastavino’s “La rosa y el sauce” (“The Rose and the Willow”) and “Se equivocó la paloma” (“The Dove Was Wrong”) spun through the air as ideal musical partnerships between pianist and singer, and orchestra and singer, each conveying loss and restrained pain in the velvety colors of Cura’s voice, and unleashing in a powerful brilliant outburst, especially in “La rosa y el sauce.” A particularly lovely surprise came in the song “Cortadera”—a word that refers to pampas grass with its white feathery plumes, like a type of dandelion. Cura, who engaged the audience throughout the entire concert, speaking to them and often making them laugh, asked for the Romanian word for dandelion, “papadie,” and then proceeded to replace the Spanish word with it at certain moments in the song, eliciting exclamations of joy from the public. He then dedicated the song “Yo, maestra” to all the teachers and delivered it with sweetness and warmth.
The two encores were Guastavino’s “Cuando acaba de llover” (“When It Stops Raining”) a delightful song that depicts an after-the-rain mood, and “Chiquilin de Bachin” by Astor Piazzolla (music) and Horacio Ferrer (lyrics), which Cura sang intimately and soulfully, in a voice infused with sadness and tenderness.
A true ambassador of Guastavino’s music, Cura did the composer proud as always by offering his songs to yet another audience in an appealing, thoughtful, and expressively diverse manner. As a composer himself, Cura regaled the public with a selection of music that reflected the depth and complexity of his musical and dramatic artistry. Add to it all a voice that resounded abundant, flexible, multifaceted, and beautiful, and you’ve got an unforgettable, enchanting, enlightening evening of music.
Top photo: José Cura with Barbora Kubíková and Oana Berbec at the Romanian Athenaeum
Photos by Maria-Cristina Necula