David Chesky's Dazzling, Dancing Spanish Poems

David Chesky's The Spanish Poems packs a lot of infectious, dance-like energy into a three-song, 24/48 (or 16/44.1) download. Available at a price commensurate with its 21:28 length, the short cycle sets "The Girl from Guatemala" by José Marti (1853–1895), Sonnet No.5 by Garcilaso De la Vega (1501–1536), and "The Romance of Love" by an unknown author. All dance away in a catchy style that makes ample use of bells, triangle, and other high-pitched percussion instruments. Played by Chesky's pick-up Orchestra of the 21st Century, they are sung in English by the versatile, technically triumphant soprano, Maureen McKay.

Exactly what McKay is singing is hard to discern. Given that she has been handed a most challenging assignment—a torturous vocal line that, in the first song, culminates on a sustained forte high C—she, like 99.9% of all singers who must move rapidly at the top of their range, sacrifices enunciation for the sake of vocal production. Although Chesky did, upon request, provide me with English translations to the first two poems, the versions I received (which do not accompany the download) differ in many places from what is sung. After doing my best to keep up with the differences, I put them aside.

Which is hardly a criticism of McKay's artistry. Most sopranos, I expect, would run from this assignment. In fact, it took a consultation with Met conductor Fabio Luisi before Chesky could find an artist capable of performing his music faithfully, and with aplomb.

Since the first song's heroine dies from love, Chesky commands McKay to commit virtual vocal hari kari in less than eight minutes. That the former member of Seattle Opera's Young Artist Program, who has since sung at the Met and been a resident artist at Komische Opera Berlin, manages to get through it with just a little sweat is a near-miracle. All the while, the orchestra sustains a dancing rhythm that features coloristic effects.

There's far more mystery and foreboding in the lower-pitched second poem. Then, in the final mystery Romance, which, I expect, concerns exactly that, Chesky again lets loose with vocal runs, percussion, and upper-octave sounds. An instantly engaging love assault, it will certainly demonstrate if your DAC is capable of believable sustain and decay.

Being a high-driving New Yorker, Chesky indulges in his fair share of handclaps, snappy rhythms, and high pitched rings of all kinds. Play the songs a few times through, and you will likely find it hard to get the rhythms out of your head. Not that you'll want to. Fun stuff, and only a few clicks away.

dalethorn's picture

I've had the high-res "Girl From Guatemala" track for a few years, and use it as a test track for sound quality. The burst of high-energy high-treble instruments at 3:00 into the track will separate the great reproducers from the merely good ones, big time.

monetschemist's picture

Jason, thanks for this review!

Here is La niña de Guatemala by José Martí


You can ask Chrome to translate it for you. Or give the URL to Google Translate.

Same for Soneto V by Garcilaso de la Vega here


Thanks to www.poemas-del-alma.com for making this available!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Thank you. However, these translations are not the same as what McKay is singing. That's the problem.

monetschemist's picture

I confess I haven't had time to check this album out, so speaking from pure ignorance... I wonder why the performance was carried out in English rather than the original? And then not providing the text of the work as sung... seems to me a curious thing. Evidently translating a highly structured poetical form like a sonnet is not going to be an easy task without losing the structure or the meaning (or both).

There are various programs out there that permit stretching music without changing pitch that might help you determine the words being sung.

Here is a really cool-looking open source program designed for intensive study of music (disclaimer - haven't tried it myself):


Here is another (same disclaimer) that is supposed to be useful for time stretching: