Friday 8 May 2020

Pure escapism: La Bella Habana from the Cuban all-women orchestra, Camerata Romeu

Camerata Romeu - La Bella Habana
La bella Habana
;Camerata Romeu, Zenaida Castro Romeu

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 8 May 2020 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
An all-women string orchestra from Cuba in a delightful selection of of Cuban and Brazilian music evoking the streets of Havana

The Camerata Romeu is an all-women string orchestra founded in Cuba in 1993 by Zenaida Castro Romeu. The orchestra specialises in playing Latin American music but with a European slant, and the group was founded to have high production values with a specific aesthetic.

On this new disc La Bella Habana, Zenaida Castro Romeu directs the Camerata Romeu in music which is intended to evoke the city of Havana, Brazilian and Cuban music heard every day in the city. The disc includes a final track which was the sound-track to Alejandro Reyes film celebrating the 500th anniversary of Havana.

Jose White's La bell cubana, which opens the disc, introduces us to the group's style with a rather gentle piece, yet enlivened by crisply engaging rhtyms and Romeu's imaginative arrangement. This is followed by Moises Simon's Chivo que rompe tambo which again concentrates on character and rhythm rather than up-front technicolour. The results are delightful and very engaging. This is quite a surprising disc, and I have to confess that the disc's cover with its photograph of 16 highly photogenic young women standing in front of the distant Havana skyline made me rather distrust it. But the performances are more than slick, the performers bring a real sense of character and rhythm to the music. Publio Medina's Cuan Hermosa Naturaleza features a fine violin solo from leader Anabel Estevez Acosta, whilst when we come to Astor Piazzolla's Libertango the arranger Yadira Cobo has definitely decided to relish the possibilities of having a 16-piece string orchestra available.

Whilst the first four pieces are all arrangements, the second group have no arranger credited, presumably all were written specifically for string orchestra, starting with Eduardo Gamboa's vividly characterful Canambu, and Guido Lopez-Gavilan's Camerata en Guaganco with its striking mix of plucked and arco textures. The results are imaginative and joyful, the players combine technical proficiency with real zest and a feel for the Latin American rhythms which cannot be counterfeited.

This is clearly a disc not intended to have any sense of gritty realism, here we have high production values, skilled string writing and very fine playing, but the results have such a sense of joy, energy and engagement that the disc cannot help but put a smile on your face and give real delight.

La Bella Habana
La Bella Cubana - Jose White/arr. Z Rameu
Chivo que rompe tambo - Moises Simons/arr A Ramirez
Cuan hermosa naturaleza - Publio medina/arr Y Cobo
Libertango - Astor Piazzolla/arr Y Cobo
Canambu - Eduardo Gamboa
Camerata en Guaguanco - Guido Lopez-Gavilan
Final Obligado - Carlos Farina
Gil y Hamilton - Ricardo Herz
La Bella Habana - Guido Lopez-Gavilan/M Romeu/J White
Camerata Romeu
Zeniada Castro Romeu (conductor)
CLL 003 1 CD [37.00]

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