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Gil French
American Record Guide, November 2009

For opera fanatics who become obsessed with comparing voices, I can’t think of a better album than this to expand their horizons.

Lorenzo Paloma was born in 1939 but was born in 1938 but write here in a purely 19th-century style—and gloriously so! In Mi Jardin Solitario, 11 songs in 26 minutes set to exquisite, brief poems by Celedonio Romero (the father of the clan), the music for soprano and solo guitar flows from the rhythm of the poetry. It is highly lyrical, widely varied, very subtle, and deeply moody, confirming my prejudice that the Spanish character is essentially sober and melancholic with an edge of tragedy, like Greek widows doomed to wear black after their husbands’ demise. It’s also incredibly beautiful and moving.

Madrigal and Five Sephardic Songs serve up more soulful longing but with a Sephardic (Jewish) edge to the harmony and style, more in the rhetorical style of chant. One of the lullabies modulates up one half-step so subtly and gorgeously that you become aware of it only after it happens.

In both song sets Maria Bayo is ravishing. Her luscious voice reflects the meaning of the texts with a lucid voice that has almost an Eastern European edge to it, while quintessentially Spanish in style. Pepe Romero serves up a kaleidoscope of sensitivity [in] the best guitar playing I’ve heard in years. Here is beauty and soulfulness through and through.

The 34-minute Concierto de Cienfuegos, written in honor of Celedonio Romero, is named after the town in Cuba where he was born; the third (final) movement is filled with infectious can’t-sit-still Cuban rhythms. Each movement has an utterly integral form and never wears out its welcome, especially in this performance. The guitars are spread out across the sound spectrum in a manner that gives each of them its own identity yet unites them into an integral ensemble. Also, Palomo writes with a considerably richer orchestral palette than does Joaquin Rodrigo, and Frühbeck de Burgos shows it off brilliantly.

The engineering for both the songs and the concerto couldn’t be better. It’s rich, warm, superbly balanced, embracing, and free of gimmickry, leaving the performances entirely in the hands of the artists.

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, November 2009

Lorenzo Palomo writes joyous, undemanding music in a mainstream Spanish style—forged in his birthplace of Andalusia. In a neatly balanced program, we discover a composer who is adept in creating miniatures for voice and guitar and equally at home in his use of a symphony orchestra to accompany the four-guitar Concierto de Cienfuegos.

Taking the Concerto first, I believe it is the finest such work written for the Romero Guitar Quartet, a world-famous family group who also hail from the Andalusia region (and that corpus includes concertos by Moreno Torroba and Rodrigo). Deftly sidestepping the pitfalls of writing for multiple soloists and a large ensemble, Palomo scores with delicacy, often using individual instruments of the orchestra to underline specific thematic and rhythmic patterns. The work is in the usual three movements. While it must be said that at nearly 34 minutes it rambles occasionally, the ideas are so enjoyable and the textures so piquant that all is forgiven. The outer sections of the slow movement (subtitled “Song to the Night: Lullaby”) are quite lovely, and the percussion-driven 10/4 meter of the exuberant final movement is similarly hard to resist.

Palomo’s music is by no means postmodern—it is even less spiced with harmonic dissonance than that of Rodrigo, which it resembles—but he nevertheless manages to avoid cliché. This is apparent in the song collections, especially the bigger of the two, My Secluded Garden. Here the composer sets brief, folk-like poems by Celedonio Romero, the patriarch and founder of the Romero Quartet. While one or two songs indulge in flamenco declamation (“Soledad”), most are contemplative, as the overall title would suggest. Even No. 5, “Burlesque Song,” turns out to be lyrical and inward looking. My personal favorite is No. 8, “The Evening”; it opens with an extended pensive guitar solo, representing the setting sun, perhaps? The Sephardic songs in the second set bring a subtle hint of Middle Eastern flavor to the proceedings.

It says something of the quality of this music that artists such as María Bayo, Pepe Romero, and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos are prepared to perform it. I have been enjoying Bayo’s recordings of Spanish songs for several years…She sings here with expressive detail, coloring her attractive, bright tone as required. Pepe Romero’s artistry remains formidable, while the Quartet (which now contains two sons of the original four family members) plays with precision and nuance.

Sound quality is clear and open…All in all, this release is a winner. If you’re a fan of Rodrigo’s ubiquitous Concierto de Aranjuez, give Palomo a try.

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, November 2009

Palomo’s Concierto de Cienfuegos beats all other concertos written for the Romero Guitar Quartet by a country mile, while Maria Bayo and Pepe Romero are the essence of authenticity in the two song cycles.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

Chris Hathaway
88.7 KUHF News, July 2009

The exquisite tenderness of 71-year-old Spanish composer Lorenzo Palomo’s song cycles sets these works apart from much of what is being written today. Maria Bayo and Pepe Romero are most expressive partners. The style of writing is unmistakably “contemporary”, but tonal and accessible. The Sephardic songs are especially moving—the first two, especially: Penas de amores (The Pain of Love), which Palomo labels a madrigal, and Linda de mi corason (My Heart’s Beauty) are a perfect pair, leading into the other songs very smoothly. There is an underlying sadness about these songs, whose strong ethnic flavor probably has something to do with the fact that Palomo (who currently lives in Berlin) is a native of Córdoba, where Anadalusian, Jewish and Arab influences dominate the local culture and folklore.

The Concierto de Cienfuegos, completed in Berlin eight years ago, was premiered by the forces heard in the recording. The first movement carries on the strongly Andalusian coloring of Mi jardin solitario and is superbly idiomatic. The second movement, which Palomo calls Canto a la noche (Song to the Night), is richly evocative, opening with the guitarists playing chords against high string harmonics. Soon, a lyrical melody for flute emerges; this movement closes with an even greater and penetrating tranquility. The problems of balancing the delicate voice of the guitar with a large orchestra are deftly handled. The finale is a percussion-happy, toccata-like piece (five beats to the bar) which, says the composer, says that “Cienfuegos never sleeps...the frenetic sounds of the bongos and congas can be heard until the break of day.”

Lorenzo Palomo’s “new romanticism”, for want of a better term, is a breath of fresh air in the early twenty-first century. As was the case with his spiritual forebears Albéniz and Tárrega, his music greatly benefits from the incorporation of native and ethnic elements. He seldom quotes folk material but evokes folk idioms in his work. It’s interesting that a Spaniard living in Berlin—like, to give one example of many, Frederick Delius (an Englishman living in southern France)—thinks more intensely of his native land than he did while a resident there. Naxos has already recorded several of Palomo’s compositions, as well as those of several other contemporary Spanish composers. One can only hope for more.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2009

Lorenzo Palomo comes in direct lineage of Rodrigo adding some interesting modern harmonies to take it forward into the present century. Local folk idioms infuse much of his output that remains within a lyric and tonal structure. It was a meeting with Celedonio Romero, the patriarch of the famous guitar family, that disclosed the fact that he was also a fine poet. Palomo chose eleven to set to music in Mi Jardin solitario (My Secluded Garden) here performed in his version for voice and guitar. It is music that is easy to listen to, though I confess that from the music I would not always guess the nature of the words. Maybe he does not have the angst in his soul to shade the sad poems, and I find much the same in connecting music with words in Madrigal y Cinco canciones sefardies (Madrigal and Five Sephardic Songs). Yet turn to the third, Nani (Lullaby), and you will find a great tenderness that continues through much of the score to the haunting quality of final Nani Sefardi (Sephardic Lullaby). Both works are performed by two of the most distinguished Spanish musicians, the soprano, Maria Bayo, and the guitarist, Pepe Romero. Palomo express a much wider range of emotions when he has the resources of the orchestra in the Concierto de Cienfuegos. The solo role is given to a guitar quartet, here stunningly played by the Romero Guitar Quartet. You could well imagine it is Rodrigo, tricky rhythms, a tourists feel of Spain, and catchy tunes giving it immediate listener appeal. The songs were recorded last year, but the Concertio dates back eight years, the balance much in favour of the Romeros. A disc you can sit back and enjoy.

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