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Seen & Heard
Editor in Chief
Leo BROUWER (b.
La ciudad de las columnas (City of Columns) (Variaciones
sobre Pieza sin titulo) (2004) [13:17]
Viaje a la semilla (Journey to the Source) (2000) [9:05]
Nuevos estudios sencillos (New Simple Studies) (2001)
Hoja de album – La gota de agua (Album Leaf – The Raindrop)
Suite No.1, Antigua (1955) [06:42]
Manuel SAUMELL (1817-1870)
8 Contradanzas (arr. Leo Brouwer)
Joaquin CLERCH (b. 1965)
Yemaya (1987) [10:29]
rec. 25-28 May 2006, St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket,
Ontario, Canada. DDD
NAXOS 8.570251 [70:24]
Born in Havana, Cuba, on 1 March 1939, Leo
Brouwer first learned music from his father, Juan Brouwer, a
doctor and amateur guitarist. He started playing the guitar at
13. His first important teacher was Isaac Nicola, and made his
professional debut at 17. In 1959 he won a scholarship to study
guitar in America Hartford University and composition the Juilliard
School of Music.
Brouwer started composing
in 1955, writing works which had roots in what he describes as
the local popular – vernacular - culture
but with modern harmonies and some influence from Bartók and
Stravinsky. By 1962 he had discovered avant-garde techniques
but he ultimately found that the kind of European modernism was
too intense and lacked the ability to relax. “There is no living entity that doesn't rest” he said and
he made a conscious decision to move away from experimentalism
and into a style of new simplicity, a synthesis of the best elements
of popular music, the avant garde and classical music.
matter what style he was writing in the music was always Brouwer,
he forged a voice for himself and his instrument and gave that
instrument a repertoire.
is currently recording the complete guitar music of Leo Brouwer
and we have now reached volume 4. The music presented here
is, in general, relatively recent, the earliest piece being
the Suite No.1, Antigua (1955), one of his earliest
works, written in a neo-baroque style heard through modern
ears. Very attractive.
jump forwards forty years for Hoja de album – La
gota de agua (Album Leaf – The Raindrop), a very
short and intense study of one of the most ephemeral of all
things – a raindrop. But despite the brevity and severity of
the musical language it’s very approachable.
Viaje a la semilla (Journey
to the Source) is a different matter entirely. A complicated,
concentrated, piece based on an essay by Alejo Carpentier which
tells the life story of its protagonist in reverse!
The two biggest works
on the disk are also the two most recent, and both are multi
movement affairs. Between 1959 and 1981, Brouwer wrote four sets
of Estudios sencillos (Simple Studies) which are
anything but simple (available on Naxos 8.553630, played by Ricardo Lobo). Twenty
years on he’s added a fifth set - Nuevos estudios sencillos (New
Simple Studies). Each of the ten studies is dedicated to
a 20th century composer from Astor Piazzolla to Szymanowski
and Stravinsky and, as before, each study explores a different
aspect of guitar technique.
La ciudad de las
columnas (City of Columns) (Variaciones sobre
Pieza sin titulo) is probably, the most approachable of
all the music on this disk. The City of Columns is a nickname
for Havana and this work is Brouwer’s own homage to his home
town. The Pieza sin titulo was written in 1956 and serves
as the start of this tour of the town.
Manuel Saumell wrote
his Contradanzas for piano and Brouwer has simply transcribed
them for guitar. They make a delightfully tuneful and uncomplicated
interlude between the more serious Brouwer works. They are very
sultry pieces, reminding me of the kind of music which always
seems to be playing when the gringo enters the cantina.
a seven movement suite by Joaquin Clerch, a friend and protégé of
Brouwer’s. Written in 1987 it won first prize, that year, in
both the National Cuban Composition Competition and the Toronto
International Guitar Competition. It’s a harmless little piece
with little substance and little of musical interest. One wonders
why it’s been put on this disk when there’s plenty of Brouwer
out there waiting to be recorded.
But the Brouwer works
are what matter on this disk and the excellent La ciudad de
las columnas is worth the price of the disk alone – well
worth investigating. Performances and recording are everything
one could want.
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