Rolando Villazón partners with star French harpist Xavier de Maistre for an album of intimate arrangements of Latin American songs for tenor and harp. Latin American song-writing, where indigenous, European and African cultures meet, offers a tantalizing collage of sounds, rhythm, melody and narrative. The album Serenata Latina explores the sensual emotional essence of the Latin American canciones – deep longing, somber facets of pain, melancholy, desire and loss dominate the very intimate colour palette of this so beautifully heartfelt recording, interspersed with vigorous life-affirming and dance-like pieces.
Rolando Villazón commented: “this album is a very special serenata, a collection of beautiful traditional folk and art songs from Latin America, a collection of poetry and music of my big homeland (when you come from Latin America, all other Latin countries feel like siblings). Its themes vary from nature to love, from grief for the spirits of the dead to the joy of being alive. Throughout, we can admire the art and sensibility of the Latin American composers who drank from the European tradition to create their music but remained rooted in the soil of our rich, colourful, sometimes melancholic yet always resilient culture.”
Thanks to its long and turbulent history, Latin America boasts a wealth of musical influences – indigenous, African and European. Its song repertoire is therefore one of the most diverse in the world, rich in melodic, rhythmic and narrative forms unique to the continent. Serenata latina pays tribute to a repertoire that reflects a two-way exchange between the rural spaces where folk music reigned and the salons and concert halls of urban areas.
The idea for Serenata latina was conceived almost eighteen years ago at Vienna’s Musikverein, where Xavier de Maistre was performing Ginastera’s Harp Concerto. The composer’s widow, Aurora Nátola, visited him backstage after the concert and suggested that he should transcribe her late husband’s Cinco canciones populares argentinas for harp. From this starting point, the harpist eventually went on to transcribe the piano parts of almost two dozen Latin American songs, as well as four solo pieces originally written for other instruments.
“I really wanted to record Latin songs with a tenor,” says de Maistre. “The first person I thought of was Rolando. He’s familiar with this music and is very innovative, always looking for fresh projects. When I phoned him about it, he immediately said that it was a great idea. We met and after half an hour he said: ‘Let’s do it!’ When he realised what was possible on the harp, he really encouraged me to try new pieces.”
Rolando Villazón praises de Maistre as “one of the finest musicians of our time”. Their shared curiosity and readiness to take artistic risks helped shape Serenata latina. “I am overjoyed to perform the duets on this album with Xavier,” notes Villazón. “I feel that the arc of his interpretation, which goes from the most delicate intimacy to the most refined and exuberant richness, is the perfect kindred spirit for the poetry and melodic universe of these songs.”
The album is released today, October 2.