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Carlos GUASTAVINO (1912-2000)
The Complete Piano Music
CD 1

Gato (1940) [1:27]
Bailecito (1940) [3:38]
Tierra Linda (1940) [3:34]
Sonatina (1945) [7:59]
Sonata in c-sharp minor (1947) [15:47]
Tres Sonatinas (1949) 'Sobre ritmos de la manera popular argentina' [13:20]
Estilo, A la manera popular (1952) [4:34]
La Siesta. Tres Preludios (1952) [8:02]
Pampeano (1952) [3:27]
La trade en Rincón (1952) [2:50]
Las niñas (1953) [5:57]
Romance de Cuyo (La Zamacueca) (1953) [5:04]
CD 2

Diez Preludios (1952) [22:43]
Diez Cantilenas Argentinas (1958) [42:12]
CD 3

Tres Romances Nuevos (1955) [11:00]
Pueblito, mi pueblo, Cancion Argentina (1957) [2:28]
Las Presencias (1961) [19:16]
Mis Amigos (1966) [21:35]
Diez Cantos Populares (1974) [18:15]
Martin Jones (piano)
rec. Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK, 5-6 December 2005; 24-25 April 2006
NIMBUS NI 5818/20 [3 CDs: 75:43 + 65:00 + 72:40]

Experience Classicsonline


While I have to admit knowing very little about Carlos Guastavino, I have found out enough about the Argentinian ‘soul’ in the past few years to hear that instantly recognisable fingerprint from bar one of the earlier works, Gato, and Bailecito in this collection. With some sense of familiarity in even this to me unknown region of music, I am on more secure ground having long owned a number of Nimbus sets played by Martin Jones, among them the Brahms complete set, and his Beethoven Sonatas – which is pipped by the earlier of Barenboim’s sets on EMI, but not by such a huge margin.

Carlos Guastavino would have none of the avant-garde style of composing, staying close to his roots in references to his national folk music, Mis Amigos and other subjects close to home. In this he contrasts with some other names from this region, such as Alberto Ginastera and Mauricio Kagel. Guastavino was himself a renowned pianist, and this is reflected in the masterly way in which he treats the instrument, utilising every expressive means to embellish and highlight a distinctive melodic voice, in turn an aspect of the composer’s numerous and highly well regarded songs. Even when all hell is breaking loose, such as in the final Presto of the 1945 Sonatina, the South American rhythms and lyricism fight through defiantly, as if possessing the spirit of Liszt and making him just that bit more approachable and appealing.

The 1945 Sonatina is relatively light in character, despite the rich pianism of its writing. The 1947 Sonata is its more serious sibling, with the minor key expressing melancholy through much of its opening Allegretto intimo movement. There is however more a joyous mood created in the following Scherzo, with some manic left-hand activity in the exposition. After a searching Recitativo, a Fuga y Final concludes the piece in triumphant spirit.

Calum MacDonald has written some detailed and informative notes on the works in this set, and while none of the music is particularly difficult to follow or comprehend, it is always useful to have the ‘added value’ of some analysis and comparison. Ravel’s piano music is held as a reference for some of the Sonata in C sharp minor, but the subsequent Tres Sonatinas, written while the composer was in London, hark back once more to Argentinian rhythms, Sombre ritmos de la manera popular argentines. The dancing quality of much of this music carries through in Estilo, and the three descriptive Preludios of La Siesta. Despite the approachability of the subjects and origins of Guastavino’s music, the tunes are always of the highest quality, the expression having a high-octane and irrepressible energy and impact.

The second disc is devoted to two cycles. Diez Preludios has the subtitle sobre temas de canciones populares infantiles, being settings of Argentine children’s songs. These are done in a highly inventive way, bringing in descriptive writing such as the twinkling figurations in ¡Cuantas Estrella! or ‘How Many Stars!’, and the fugal Un Domingo de Manana, or ‘A Sunday Morning’, which conjures a solemn religious feeling through some sophisticated counterpoint. The other major 1950s cycle here is the Dies Cantilenas Argentinas, which evoke places, people or flowers. The pieces here are less concise than with the children’s songs, and contain more detailed character studies such as a work which might be seen as the composer’s musical portrait of his sister, Ina. This is a movement called Adolescensia, in which there are more intricate and chromatic means employed than in many of the other pieces. Some of the movements can be seen as ‘imaginary portraits’ or vignettes, others set a memorable scene, such as the final Cantelina La Casa or ‘The House’, which is a piece of richly nostalgic and reflective beauty; like many of the other works in this cycle incorporating more than a little of Scriabin’s ruminative undulations.

The third disc brings us the two Tres Romances Nuevos, the third of which was intended, but apparently never written. These almost programmatic works describe dancing joy on the one hand and the sorrow of unrequited or lost love on the other. Pueblito, mi Pueblo or ‘O little town, my town’, was one of the composer’s early hits as a song writer, and this version was re-set for piano solo in 1957 with a dedication to his parents.

Las Presencias or ‘Appearances’ is a set of five musical depictions of people, some real, some imaginary. Most of these characters have an infectious sense of dancing joie-de-vivre in the individual characters. Mariana, by contrast, is a more lyrical, sadly reflective song-without-words, with a striking bi-tonal passage just towards the end. In 1966 Guastavino provided Las Presencias with a quasi-companion cycle called Mis Amigos, ‘My Friends’, each of whose characters is also associated with a street or location in Buenos Aires. The composer’s later style became more sparing, but the Argentinian romantic soul and character is still very much in evidence through the cantabile and semplice markings. When you get to know these ‘songs’ well enough as friends, you find you can take them with you anywhere, whistling the tunes and wondering from where you remember them.

Guastavino’s last piano pieces return to the Cantos Populares area of his earlier work, but showing a fascinating development in approach and outlook on the style and genre of both his personal and his national heritage. The ‘songs’ are in many ways distilled to their essence in these pieces. They are still written pianistically, but with no wasted notes and certainly hardly any extra thickening of textures these pieces retain a spontaneous feel though truly sophisticated and effortless sounding technical expertise.

Taking in the entire piano output of a single composer in virtually one sitting has been an interesting experience, and under the eminently capable hands of Martin Jones the music is brought to life in a most colourful and immediate fashion. The recordings are set in the familiar resonance of the Wyastone Leys concert hall and are very good indeed. Nimbus is persisting with their Ambisonic UHJ encoded techniques, so the stereo spread on conventional equipment is not as pronounced as you might encounter in more ‘normal’ recordings, but I don’t find this much of a problem here. The effect is that of having the piano just a little further away that you might normally expect in a studio recording, but there is no perceived loss of detail or dynamics. Carlos Guastavino is at the very least my discovery of the month, and with its enticing combination of nostalgia, musical and personal observation, dancing rhythms and peerless singing melodies, I would recommend this new set to one and all.

Dominy Clements




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