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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


RECORDING OF THE MONTH

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Francisco GUERRERO (1951 – 1997)
Complete Orchestral Works

Coma Berenices (1996)
Ariadna (1984)
Sáhara (1991)
Oleada (1993)
Antar Atman (1980)
Orquesta Sínfonica de Galicia/José Ramón Encinar
Recorded: Auditorio, Teatro Rosalia de Castro, La Coruña, April and September 1999 and March 2000
COL LEGNO WWE 1CD20044 [54:53]


At the time of his untimely death in October 1997, Francisco Guerrero left a quantitatively limited but substantial output. This consists of several sizeable works such as his large-scale cycle Zayin (1983 – 1997) (available on record but which I have not heard so far) and some impressive orchestral works recorded here. Incidentally, an early work Ecce Opus of 1973 has not been included in the present otherwise complete recording of Guerrero’s orchestral music.

Antar Atman of 1980 is thus the earliest work here. Many of Guerrero’s hallmarks are already much in evidence, foremost among them, an almost unstoppable energy irresistibly pushing the music forward. This is probably one of the most striking characteristics of his music. Complexity is another prominent component, though the composer subtly argued that his music is not complicated. He often compared his music to a tree or a wave, i.e. to complex entities that may nevertheless easily perceived as a whole. As soon as details obscure the perception of the form, complication sets in. True to say that Guerrero’s music is complex, intricately worked-out, but it retains a clear sense of form (even if no traditional form) and of direction. Antar Atman is, needless to say, quite complex, even at times extravagantly so, but never of the expense of expression which remains central to the composer’s concerns. In many respects, albeit superficially, his music is rather similar to Ligeti’s in its reliance of what may be referred to as micro-polyphony and to Xenakis’s in its massive energy. Guerrero’s music often suggests intractable, rugged landscapes in quite vivid orchestral terms, though it is never programmatic. The very end of this powerful piece is quite characteristic of Guerrero’s music: a long-held high note bluntly answered by some grumble from the double basses.

Ariadna, completed in 1984, is scored for twenty strings (ten violins, five violas and five cellos) laid-out in twenty real parts and using many playing techniques. The music spirals endlessly, thus creating a fascinating network of intermingling lines without ever losing sight of the red thread running throughout the piece. Guerrero’s liking for string sounds and mastery in writing for them is quite impressive indeed.

The opening section of Sáhara of 1991 is again for strings alone. They hold a long unison E flat, without sounding static. Variety is achieved by the strings’ staggered entries such suggesting a formidable activity beneath the apparently static surface. Tension increases considerably till halfway through the piece, at which point the woodwinds and brass enter in often massive chords, again evoking some sun-drenched, inhuman landscapes.

Oleada, scored for full string orchestra, is quite similar to Ariadna, though much use is made of the full tonal potential of the strings, with great emphasis on extreme contrasts. As implied by the title (derived from the Spanish word Ola meaning Wave), the music unfolds in massive waves of sounds often opposing extreme registers (another characteristic of his music indeed).

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of de Falla’s death, the Junta de Andalucia (Andalusian Regional Government) commissioned works from four Andalusian composers of different generations: Manuel Castillo, Rafael Diáz, José García Román and Francisco Guerrero. The latter responded with Coma Berenices completed in 1996 and eventually his last completed work. It was first performed posthumously in 1998 by the Orquesta de Cordoba conducted by Leo Brouwer. (This performance, as well as that of two of the other commissioned pieces, i.e. Castillo’s Sinfonietta Homenaje and Diaz’s magnificent Concierto Andaluz, is available on ALMAVIVA DS 019.) The title Berenice’s Hair is the name of a constellation, though again the piece does not aim at any descriptive programme. The music, full of arresting orchestral touches and displaying the composer’s total mastery and assurance in handling large orchestral forces, nevertheless, conjures up remote, mysterious outer space as well as the tremendous energy unleashed by exploding novas (two mighty percussion cadenzas). If there ever was a Music of the Spheres, this is it.

At the time of his death, Guerrero was also busy with another important project which was left unfinished, an orchestration of Albeniz’s Iberia. He also repeatedly (and half-jokingly) mentioned that his music was to change drastically as soon as the orchestration would have been completed, without giving any real hint of the direction his music was to take.

The Orquesta Sínfonica de Galicia may not be a world-class orchestra, but they play this difficult, demanding music with much aplomb, assurance and – most importantly – with all their hearts. Encinar contrives superb, vital performances, beautifully caught by the recording team.

Complex, demanding, often gripping, powerfully expressive and ultimately quite rewarding, such is Francisco Guerrero’s music. I can not but recommend this release most heartily. This is my record of the month.

Hubert Culot

 



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