Andre Kostelanetz
Lure Of Spain






When devoted Exotica listeners encounter the Russian tsar of the symphonic Easy Listening genre named Andre Kostelanetz (1901–1980) at one point in their life, it is usually one particular work they single out: Lure Of Paradise (1959) is a delicate fusion of symphonic grandeur with an intimate quartet-evoking exotic percussion aorta. As such, it has reached a cult following. A second interesting choice would be the tremendously dreamy and melodious Lure Of The Tropics (1954) which features many a tune that would later be reincarnated on Lure Of Paradise.


I consider Lure Of The Tropics a true classic and rate it even higher than the paradisiac next of kin. These works are thus entangled and it is worth owning both of them in order to hear the difference between a pre-Exotica and a real Exotica release of the same conductor. Anyway, these two albums seem to be everything that Andre Kostelanetz has to offer in terms of the genre. Or are they? What about his work of 1957, Lure Of Spain? Sure, it remains out of the Exotica collector's sight for obvious reasons: Spain isn't overly exotic, let alone tropical, for it is a part of Old Europe, so in the end, this isn't a proper Exotica record and is hence neglected for a good reason.


But things aren't as they seem, for the eight surprisingly long and definitely pompous compositions that are gathered on this 12" LP, released by Columbia Records, are definitely worth your while, I promise! For one, it remains one of Kostelanetz's most orchestral works, and there are huge surprises on this album – ranging from field recordings over Flamenco guitar solos to eminently frantic drum rituals – that boost the exotic flavor and move the focus away from the prior stereotypical perception one had about it. In a way, all of the eight inclusions are even more exotic than the Russian conductor's two aforementioned standout albums from a stylistic and cinematic viewpoint, and due to this usually unmentioned discovery, I'm more than willed to dig deeper into yet another one of Kostelanetz's Lure albums below.


The song quartet of side A launches with Kostelanetz’s interpretation of Pascal Marquina Narro’s España Cañí which was written around 1925. Translatable as gypsy spain, it is traditionally played at bullfights when the matadors face the danger of this questionable activity. It is probably the most-clichéd inclusion of an already kitsch-heavy album, and everyone around the globe knows this song by heart, be it due to Saturday morning cartoons or the real experience in a Spanish arena. The sunset-colored, adventure-evoking staccato twelve-to-fourteen-note scheme is still kept intact on the strings, as is the sixteen-note fanfare on an incisively erupting trumpet. Heavily beaten orchestra drums and frantically clicking castanets round the percussive frame off. Of particular interest is the complemental maelstrom of whirling flutes. Despite the hypertensive crisis this song causes, they are all the more mellifluous, almost transfiguring the threat and forthcoming blood-curdling mess into something heroic and worthwhile. Well, it’s a traditional song and therefore has to be interpreted as one. From an Exotica-related viewpoint, this song has now lost its exotic aura, but back in the 50’s when tourism to Europe is on the rise, it boosted the yearning of North American travelers and could also be linked to Mexico thanks to its characteristic traits.


The following The Lady And The Nightingale (also known as The Maiden And The Nightingale) is the final piece of Enrique Granados’ suite called Goyescas and the most famous one at the same time. And boy, does it start in an exotic way: chirping birds and seagulls are admixed to mellow flutes, and quiescent violin strings whirr in pastel colors to the scenery. The horns are soon unleashed, changing this arrangement into something more glaring and powerful, with the strings growing in number, creating a crescendo that is hard to believe, given the intimate nature of this piano arrangement. The doleful, melancholic notes in minor are lessened by the surprisingly convivial strings, but the brass sections fuel this mood well enough. It’s a highly eclectic piece with smashing cymbals, droning timpani and, as just stated, a silky opening phase, delivering every possible mood and volume range in almost six minutes. 


While Isaac Albéniz’s masterwork Fête-Dieu À Seville is presented here in a laid-back alto flute-accompanied military march form complete with rattling kettledrums, majestic orchestra gongs and the blithesome main melody taken over by the strings, staccato contrabass bursts and sizzling-hot Spanish trumpets, Manuel de Falla’s Fire Dance (actually known as Ritual Fire Dance) of 1915 is presented in its original orchestral form here, with the bumble bee-like cellos, the well-known fourteen-note scheme on the shawm-like and the Middle Eastern-evoking oboes altogether meshing well with the droning timpani and the tribal flute melody that plays in the highest tone range. It is a decisively exotic piece, even though the strings are blasting everything away in the later stage. The contrabass frame is worth mentioning, for it features, at least to my ears, one of the eeriest tone sequences that were ever created in classical music. Kostelanetz keeps these intact; an impressive piece!


Side B is much more gleeful and exotic, though it is hard to make such a bold, spartan statement when two of the presented compositions cross the six-minute mark. The opening sections of these symphonic pieces are among the best. Another piece of Isaac Albéniz, Córdoba, marks the beginning of this side, and it immediately revs up the exotic factor to sky-high regions thanks to the clinging, plinking tambourins, triangles, cowbells plus the hollow bongos, danger-evoking timpani and last but not least the ritualistic screams and chants. Whatever led to the inclusion of this opening section, it is spectacular! The following passage remains in string-heavy Mediterranean territories, with red-tinted violins played in the Venetian tremolo style. Everything remains dulcet from this point on, with no manic drum in sight. Anyway, it’s a very strong outing with an imaginative introduction.


 José Iturbi’s Seguidillas is next, and it launches with a Balearic acoustic guitar riff that encapsulates all the nocturnal and amorous stereotypes the Spanish mainland and the Flamenco genre suggest to the yearning traveler. Even though Seguidillas is a Folk song, Kostelanetz transforms it into an orchestral piece, with lavish strings and even the occasional horn infusion. But it’s indeed the Flamenco guitar that is in the spotlight here, and it remains a surprise why this particular Spanish cliché hasn’t been presented on the album before. Be it as it may, the last two tracks comprise of additional compositions by Manuel de Falla: the first one is Pantomime which started in 1915 as a chamber music piece and has been reworked to an orchestral piece, the latter of which falls into the domain of Andre Kostelanetz, naturally. It is the most oscillating and shifting piece on the album. What starts as a castanet-fueled oboe melody continues with an incessant variety of romantic legato strings. Their jumpier brethren with a high attack rate and wave-like flute spirals sync with the many timpani protuberances. These instruments altogether mimic (!) the fast-moving skit of a pantomime.


The final arrangement is based on de Falla’s Spanish Dance and delivers more castanets than ever, their plasticity being a feast for the ears, as their clicking commando is nothing short of impressive. The orchestra strings pass through several phases, from melodramatic affection over jaunty tonalities to elbowing excitement. The horns are only of secondary importance, it is really the castanets and the strings that shine, ending the album on a glowing and ultimately truly Spanish note.


The attraction of Lure Of Spain is based on its shifting range of styles. While Lure Of The Tropics and Lure Of Paradise are definitely harmonious and well carved out, the Spanish edition oscillates between quiet parts and smashing horns, clichéd infusions of heroism and romantic notions as well as interesting stylistic particularities that break the formula and enhance it with a definite aura of the exotic. The standout interpretations in this regard are Fire Dance with its Oriental flavor (Spain? Orient?), and Córdoba's ritualistic jungle drama in the Tropics (Spain? Tropics?). These additions put Kostelanetz's effort into close proximity to the Easy Listening genre, but in the end, Lure Of Spain is way too exciting to firmly place it there. The horns are smashing, the legato of the violins is well-saturated and the frantic castanets click the living daylights out of the speakers.


It is Kostelanetz's most melodramatic album of all his Lure offerings, but it is exotic enough to consider it, especially so its 2008 digital download reissue by Hallmark. Released shortly after its 50th anniversary, it is available at a fair price on Amazon and iTunes (although it has been removed from all international iTunes stores at time of writing this review). Since this album was produced in the 50's when transatlantic tourism was on the rise, I am more than willed to count it to the Exotica realm, although it is neither entirely tropical nor fully jungle-like, but boldly Latin and colorful enough to denominate it as a close contender. On a side note, the question whether this is an Easy Listening album or not is equally hard to answer, for the compositions are all quite convoluted and complex, but I leave that open for debate as well.


Exotica Review 140: Andre Kostelanetz – Lure Of Spain (1957). Originally published on Nov. 3, 2012 at