Classical CD Reviews
“Latin Perspectives” = LEO BROUWER: Quintet; Beatlerianas; MIGUEL DEL AGUILA: Presto II; JAVIER ÁLVEREZ: Metro Chabanco – Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas, guitar / Santiago Q. – Cubafilin Records
Published on June 29, 2012
“Latin Perspectives” = LEO BROUWER: Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet; Beatlerianas; MIGUEL DEL AGUILA: Presto II for String Quartet; JAVIER ÁLVEREZ: Metro Chabanco – Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas, guitar / Santiago Quartet – Cubafilin Records [Distrib. by Allegro], 50:20 ****:
This disc presents a series of sassy and spirited performances of attractive music by a sassy, attractive group of young musicians—I know that because there are more photos of the group than a major record label typically uses to sell its latest photogenic artist-of-the-month. If you get the initial impression, then, that this release might be a sort of vanity production, you’ll be disabused immediately by the fine playing in Leo Brouwer’s very fine Quintet. The ostinato rhythms and salsa-tinged melodies instantly bespeak Latin America, yet this is music with a serious Western-musical pedigree behind it. There’s a lonely soulfulness about the opening of the second movement that somehow recalls Copland—Latin American Sketches meets Lonely City. But then Brouwer goes on to an agitated middle section where Latin rhythms work themselves up into a tight little fugue before returning to the soulful quietude of the opening. This is music that resonates rather than being content to serve up a series of nationalistic clichés.
Equally skillful is Brouwer’s reworking of Beatles’ tunes in Beatlerianas. Again, he shows himself expert in using staples of Western-musical technique such as counterpoint and complex harmonic and rhythmic patterns to elevate the likes of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Ticket to Ride.” [He has done many Beatles arrangements over the years…Ed.] Am I the only baby boomer who doesn’t have fond feelings for the Beatles and their soft-headed brand of soft rock? Enough, already!
More interesting and invigorating is Miguel del Aguila’s Presto II, which flirts with pop-musical influences such as dancehall tunes but in a most inventive way, the trite little melody that del Aguila springs on us constantly devolving through a series of quasi-variations in which it’s treated to all manner of rhythmic, dynamic, melodic, and even percussive permutations as the performers thump on the bodies of their instruments and finally stamp out the rhythms as the melody zooms away in dissonant, wispy con trails. Del Aguila wrote the piece while living in Vienna. He explains, “For the Viennese, the string quartet form is sacredly serious. With ‘Presto II’ I was mocking the form and the protocol of classical string quartet tradition. String Quartet No. 2 was presented in Vienna, and not surprisingly the Viennese press found it ‘not serious.’” Well, I for one get and appreciate the joke and the music as well.
Metro Chabacano by Javier Álvarez was commission for a “kinetic installation” by artist Marcos Límenez in one of Mexico City’s busiest subway stations. Apparently it was played there by the group that commissioned it, Cuarteto Latinoamerico, but I can’t imagine that any commuter could actually hear Note One of the piece in such a setting. It was later recorded and “played on loop” in the station, which probably had a greater effect, supposing that it was amplified sufficiently. In the sanctity of your own little listening space, you’ll note that while this moto perpetuo has a frenetic pace to it, suggestive of modern commuter travel, it’s really a sedate little piece that sounds sort of like John Adams in one of his more reflective moods. It perfectly exploits the string quartet medium, and while it isn’t a work of undying significance, it gets its modest point across.
In all, this is an appealing little collection; in fact, I expect many listeners to be more attuned than I am to Brouwer’s flirtation with Beatlemania and so more receptive to the entire program. I’m assuming the somewhat short playing time reflects a lack of relevant repertory rather than niggardliness on the part of the producers, so I’m going to let that pass. Recommended to fanciers of Latin American music with a classical bent.