Album Title: Julíán Aguírre & Carlos López Buchardo: Complete Piano works Vol.1 & 2
Performer: Lía Cimaglia Espinosa, piano
Label: Cosentino RCO 267/268
Running time
: 55'49"/49'01"
Recorded: 1981

Spanish music is contagious. My first love for music started with the Spanish Gypsy Dance from my father's 45 rpm singles. Then not much later I fell for the spell of Chabrier's España and Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnole. Spain the word translates immediately into passion, pathos and romance. When the musical seed of fire lands on the foreign soils in the Americas fuelled by local vernacular, it blazes with a new radiance and glow. From the first American idol Louis Moreau Gottschalk to Ernesto Lecuona of Cuba, Hector Villa-Lobos and Ernesto Nazareth of
Brazil, Alberto Williams, Carlos Guastavino and Ernesto Grangosch of Argentina to the new generation that includes Celestino Piaggio, José Torre Bertucci, Alberto Ginastera and Juan José Castro (Argentina), Orlando J. Garcia (Cuba), Alfredo Rugeles (American-born Venezuelan), César Guerra Peixe (Brazil)... the list goes on and on. And I'm just confining myself to piano compositions.

Warning: Argentinean music is even more contagious. Had I not known Julíán Aguírre, I wouldn't be aware of what I've been missing. Once I knew, it's one of my biggest regrets if I didn't have a chance then to listen to this 2-CD album. The first time I listened, I was immediately captivated by the dramatic but melancholy Argentinean flavor with a dash of Spanish Tabasco somewhat akin to Granados and Albeniz. In fact, of all the Latin American composers mentioned above, Aguirre is the most truthful to traditional aesthetic values, with refined tone-painting dynamics and elegant salon ambience that is not too different from Granados' youthful works. Most of the time Aguirre refrained from the rhythmic complexity favored by Gottschalk and excelled at by Lecuona. "La Danse de Belkiss No.2", "Canción", "El Grito", "Huella" and "Zamba" are a few of the exceptions though still nowhere near the most frantic numbers of Lecuona. But that doesn't mean that Aguirre is monorhythmic. Like Nazareth, his music lets the pulse flow with the melody rather than accelerate your heart beat with double or triple la folia dance steps.

So who is Julíán Aguírre? The liner notes in both CDs are in Spanish only and there isn't much about him that can be Googled on the net. The Wikipedia entry is again only in Spanish. This is what I could make of the wobbly web translation. Antonio Tomás Julián Aguirre was born in Buenos Aires in 1868 and died in the same city in 1924. In early childhood he moved with his family to Madrid where he studied piano, harmony and counterpoint at the Royal Conservatory.
Later he received further training in Paris before returning to teach in his hometown, where he founded the School of Music of Argentina in 1916. Although greatly indebted to the Romantic Spanish schools, Aguirre remained a self-conscious nationalist and was rightfully recognized as the first Argentine composer who sought inspiration in his native vernacular unaffected by the ebbs and tides of modernism and Verismo Wagnerism then en vogue.

In that respect his delicate and intimate piano writing style has influenced Guastavino invariably, separating both from the more adventurous and modernistic style of Ginastera.

Argentine pianist Lía Cimaglia Espinosa (1906-1998) first studied in Buenos Aires with Alberto Williams and Celestino Piaggio. In 1938, she received scholarship to further her study in Paris with Isidoro Philipp, Ives Nat and Alfred Cortot. Apart from being the soloist in the Argentinean premieres of some of the most important 20
th century romantic concertos including Brahms, Rachmaninov, Poulenc, Respighi and Britten, Miss Espinosa was also a celebrated nationalistic composer. Although I have only had this one opportunity to hear here, she immediately convinced me that she belongs to the elite and forefront of legendary pianists. The tenderness and sensitivity in her pearly touch, the suaveness in her free-spirited rubato and the nuance of changing moods all work like magic with music that flows in her blood.

Her pondering pauses in particular are heartfelt musical sighs. Her soulful interpretation of the two sets of Aires Nacionales Argentinos and the Aires Populares Argentinos are ineffably beautiful and touching. So is the romantic pathos she conveys through Cuentos a Ninon and Idilio. The two Intimas yearn with an endearing passion that will melt your heart. Apart from the emotional moments, there's nothing short on the lighter side. I could listen all night long imagining her fingers dancing up and down the keyboard playing the Spanish flavored Mazurca Española, Zortzico and Canción India No.3, singing the enchanting love songs Barcarola and Canción en el Modo Indio, the children's song-like Canción No. 1, Aires Criollos and Gato or the salon Polka Victoria.

Until I decided to write this review and searched the Internet, I did not realize what the maestro cognoscenti had said about her playing. "Lía Cimaglia combines the beauty of a talented performer with the seductive qualities of a songwriter." - Ives Nat. "She has a true artist's temperament and the sacred fire which connects the audience to all the emotions of music." - Arthur Rubinstein. No wonder I fell captive to her playing.

The other Argentine composer on this album is Carlos Félix López Buchardo (1881-1948), represented by only four pieces of works featured on Vol.2. Born thirteen years later than Aguirre, Buchardo pursued his training in Paris with Albert Roussel. After returning to Buenos Aires, he became actively involved in teaching and composing, focusing on operas and vocal works. His major contributions included the founding of the Conservatorio Nacional and directorship of the Teatro Colón. His piano pieces as evidenced here in the lyrical Nocturno, Campera and Bailecito are deeply rooted in native inspiration. The single-movement Sonatina is pensive, with a tint of modernism like Ginastera.

Although the stereo image is exaggerated (which fortunately could be resolved by my JohnBlue Audio CD mat), the recording quality is indisputably loyal to the king of musical instruments. The most valuable quality of this recording is Miss Espinosa's melancholic and nostalgic dark chocolate tone that is so compellingly Argentinean and so vividly captured here. Listen through "Triste Nos.1 to 5" from Aires Nacionales Argentinos and you'll find your soft spot for bitter-sweet sad songs.

I'm sure there are more Argentinean composers waiting to be discovered like Ernesto Drangosch who composed not only tangos in the popular style but also the first piano concerto and the first piano sonata of Argentina. Until then, this will definitely make it to the top of my list of Best Discovery of 2009. Watch this YouTube video for a taste.