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Yma Sumac Recital - Yma Sumac

Yma Sumac
Release Date: 04/30/2013 
Label:  Esp Disk Ltd.   Catalog #: 40292  
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

YMA SUMAC RECITAL Yma Sumac (voc); Cholita Riverto (voc); 1 Moises Vivanco gtr, cond; unnamed O ESP-DISK 4029 (55: 02) Live: Bucharest 1961

VIVANCO Fuego Sobre los Andes. Atayapura. Montana Mama. Serenata India. Supay Taki. Goomba Boomba. Cueca Chilena. Wambra. Taita Inti. 1 Chuncho. TRADITIONAL Amor Indio. Read more Llama Caravana. 1 Marinera. BOLIVIAN FOLK SONG 1 Ccori Canastitay

This is the CD reissue of a disc originally issued in 1963 of a concert that legendary singer Yma Sumac gave in Bucharest, Rumania. The exact date—even the month—is obscure; all we’re sure about is that it was given in 1961. What or who decided to import a Peruvian pop-folk singer to Rumania in the first place is as obscure as the date. I should also note that the same album, with instrumental numbers omitted, is also being released concurrently on vinyl as ESP-Disk 4029LP. The first release of this concert was on Electrecord 073 (LP). The only other CD release prior to ESP-Disk was in the 1990s on a fake (bootleg) label called Elect (a play on Electrecord) 2116, on which they added a bucketful of phony echo and reverb.

Although the sound quality of this CD reissue is also somewhat clearer and less muddy than the original ESP LP, the volume is exceptionally low. I had to turn up the volume of my CD player past the halfway point just to get it to a normal listening volume, which is extreme to say the least. Those familiar with Sumac’s original Capitol recordings, in which her guitarist-arranger husband, Moises Vivanco, arranged all of her numbers for a large pop orchestra with a string section and incessantly pounding timpani, will not be disappointed by the first two selections, the instrumental Fuego sobre los Andes (Fire Over the Andes) or the vocal Ataypura (translated here as “High Andes”). As in the studio recordings, too, Sumac’s voice is miked excessively closely, so much so that in Ataypura one can hear her play with the mike by turning her head away from it, creating a bit of feedback which gives her voice a bizarre sound. One thing that always strikes you with Sumac’s performances, in fact, is that close miking, which leads me to wonder just how strong that voice really was. Since I’ve never met anyone who ever heard Sumac in person, however—and if I did, I think they’d tell me she was very close to the microphone—I’m not sure of her actual carrying power. This may well have been a voice like that of Ivan Rebroff, Columbia Records’ “sensational” find of the early 1970s, the “highest, lowest bass in the world.”

Vivanco’s ersatz Latin-big band arrangements, which unfortunately sound much more like Xavier Cugat than like genuine Peruvian folk music, tend to distract one’s appreciation of much of this music. This is especially evident in an instrumental piece like Serenata India , which, though he (finally) lays off the heavy timpani pounding, sounds very much like David Rose or Mantovani Meets Latin Music. I realize that he probably had to do this in his day and time in order to make her music commercial and sell records, but let’s be honest: This is about as “authentic” a presentation of this music as Gordon Jenkins’s equally lush, overblown arrangement of Leadbelly’s Goodnight, Irene for the Weavers. In Supay Taki one heard for the first time Sumac’s upper range, as she sings somewhat covered staccato notes that go up to a high D.

More of Vivanco’s bombastic arrangements follow; only with Cueca Chilena do we finally reach a track on which Sumac and a female singer are accompanied only by Vivanco’s guitar. Happily, he was an excellent guitarist, and the rhythmic pulse of this song is absolutely infectious. On this track, too, Sumac touches the E above high C, twice in fact, and the note is completely secure. One of the more interesting things about Cueca Chilena is that one of the tenors in the background chorus is none other than Alessandro Granda, who in the 1920s sang at Toscanini’s La Scala Opera (and recorded the role of Pinkerton on the first electrical recording of Madama Butterfly ).

The order of the selections is not reflected on the back cover of the CD, which only lists 10 items. The order is as follows, with asterisks indicating the instrumentals not on the LP:

*Fuego sobre los Andes


Montana Mama

Amor Indio

*Serenata India

Supay Taki

Goomba Boomba

*Llama Caravana

Cueca Chilena —with guitar & handclapping

Ccori Canatita —same as above, this is the cool track


Taita Inti —guitar, no chorus


Chuncho —guitar, no chorus

The order of selections was also different on the original Electrecord LP; that disc programmed the concert like this:

Side One

Taita Inty (Moisés Vivanco, Les Baxter)

Wambra (Moisés Vivanco)

Ataipura (Moisés Vivanco, Les Baxter)

Montana Mama (Moisés Vivanco)

Supay Taki

Amor Indio (arranged by Moisés Vivanco)

Side Two

Hori Canastitai

Serenata India

Goomba Boomba (Billy May)

Cueca Chilena (Moisés Vivanco)

Llama Caravana (trad. arr. Moisés Vivanco)

Marinera (trad. arr. Moisés Vivanco)

Chuncho (Moisés Vivanco)

Note that the opening selection on the ESP-Disk, Fuego sobre , was not originally issued by Electrecord. I purposely left the composer credits in to indicate how far off base from genuine Peruvian folk music much of this material is. Goomba Boomba , for instance, is described in the ESP booklet as in “the popular music category” but “reminds us nonetheless of the ancient Peruvian traditions [emphasis mine] which lie at the very heart of the singer’s total artistry.” It was written by Billy May, for crying out loud! And as far as I know, Billy May didn’t have a Peruvian bone in his body! Note, also, that two other selections were co-written by Les Baxter, another American and one who became famous for his ersatz “exotica.” The point I am making is that, whether you like this music or not, you need to accept that it is not authentic—except, of course, for the selections on which Sumac performs with only a guitar behind her. Those are magnificent, and valuable souvenirs of a since-obscured culture and thus in their own right important as well as exciting performances. I have marked them as such in my listing of CD tracks, and I therefore recommend the disc for these selections only…but that recommendation is a very high one.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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