Brouwer has claims to be one of the foremost present-day composers
for the classical guitar. He wrote his first mature composition
when he was sixteen, the neo-classical Suite Antigua,
which is included here alongside some of his more recent compositions.
This is the fourth volume in the Naxos Brouwer series, which
started ten years ago. As with volume three the guitarist is
Graham Anthony Devine, a player I have admired on several occasions.
With his fluent technique and musical phrasing he is an ideal
interpreter of Brouwer’s music. I haven’t heard the previous
volumes but am quite familiar with his works. For someone coming
new to him I would rather recommend one of the earlier volumes
as a starter; possibly Volume 2 with the evocative El Decameron
Negro, which I count as his finest work. The present volume
has a great deal to offer, too, and the little suite from 1955
we turn to his more recent efforts we recognize the ‘real’ Brouwer.
Much of his work is permeated with a kind of harsh lyricism,
which can seem like a contradiction in terms. He often creates
melodies, or themes, with great immediacy but spiced with dissonances
to avoid any sweetness.
ciudad de las columnas (The City of Columns) is a nickname
for Havana. The six movement composition is a portrait of his
native city and it shows how much he loves the place, even the
busy and chaotic life of Obispo Street (IV).
early as 1959 Brouwer began writing Estudios sencillos
(Simple Studies) for pedagogical purposes. He composed several
sets that have become very popular, also as concert music. In
2001 he wrote another set of ten pieces, each of them dedicated
to a 20th century composer. Here we find omaggios
a: Debussy, Mangoré, Caturia, Prokofiev, Tarrega, Sor, Piazzolla,
Villa-Lobos, Szymanowski and Stravinsky. As can be seen this
list includes several Latin-Americans, who have championed the
guitar, but there are also some European composers who haven’t.
My personal favourites are the last two: Szymanowski, whose
omaggio has a suggestively alluring melodic charm, and
Stravinsky, who sounds as jagged as he looks on Jean Cocteau’s
famous drawing of him playing The Rite of Spring.
century Cuban pianist and composer Manuel Samuell was perhaps
the most important musician in creating Cuban national music,
forging together influences from French contredanse with
African rhythms. Habanera, mambo, rumba, salsa, all have their
origin here. Leo Brouwer arranged eight of Samuell’s dances
for guitar and the whole suite is like a hors d’oeuvre of
tasty melodies and rhythms. Anyone can find a favourite piece
here – try, for example, the melancholy No. VII Recuerdos
tristes or the lively No. VIII La Maria.
Hoja de album (Album Leaf): La gota de agua (The
Raindrop) is truly descriptive, with sparse drops and long silences
in between. The final composition on this disc is by Brouwer’s
friend and protégé Joaquin Clerch. Yemaya is a goddess
from the Afro-Cuban Santería-Yoruba religion. She is described
as the ocean, the essence of motherhood and a protector of children
and she appears in many guises. Clerch’s composition, which
is in seven short sections played without a break, starts almost
inaudibly with the wind blowing over the waves. Then we are
confronted with Yemaya’s many and varied personalities before
we are again transported to where we started.
confirms through this disc his position as one of the most accomplished
guitarists now before the public and for the many admirers of
Brouwer’s music this is an essential buy. Devine contributes
his own highly informative liner-notes and Norbert Kraft and
Bonnie Silver have once again produced an immaculate recording.
Of the many precious jewels in Naxos’s luminous crown, their
guitar collection is certainly one of brightest shining.
by Bob Briggs