Roberto SIERRA (b.
1953) New Music with a Caribbean Accent
Vestigios rituales (1) (1984) [8:00] Conjuros (2)(1982) [10:05] Trio tropical (3)(1991) [17:33] Cinco bocetos (4) (1984) [8:53] Glosa a la sombra (5) (1987) [9:59] Descarga, for piano and ten instruments (6) (1987-90)
and Joel Sachs (pianos) (1)
Virginia Gutiérrez (soprano), Joel Sachs (piano) (2)
Mark Steinberg (violin), Maria Kitsopoulos (cello), Joel Sachs (piano) (3)
David Krakauer (clarinet) (4)
Ellen Lang (mezzo), David Krakauer (clarinet), Mia Wu (viola), Cheryl Seltzer
(piano), Joel Sachs (conductor) (5)
Cheryl Seltzer (piano), Jayn Rosenfeld (flute), Nathan Williams (clarinet), Daniel
Grabois (French horn), Richard Kelley (trumpet), Benjamin Herrington (trombone),
Erik Charlston (percussion), Mark Steinberg (violin), Rachel Evans (viola), Maria
Kitsopoulos (cello), Victor Kioulaphides (double bass), Joel Sachs (conductor)
Continuum/Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sachs (directors)
rec. January and November 1991, American Academy and Institute
of Arts and Letters, New York City NAXOS AMERICAN
CLASSICS 8.559263 [67:13]
warned, anyone expecting a package tour of Caribbean rhythms
and high spirits will be knocked off their bar stools by
the crashing note clusters of Vestigios rituales. This intoxicating
Caribbean cocktail from Puerto Rican Roberto Sierra is served
with a hefty twist of Ligeti, not lime, and packs quite a
punch. That said it’s not all high-octane stuff, and those
of a more sensitive disposition will find plenty to enjoy
in the disc’s more accessible offerings, Cinco bocetos and Descarga.
not surprising there is more than a passing resemblance to
the sound world of György Ligeti, as Sierra studied with
him at the Hamburg Musikhochschule. His big break came when
he was appointed the Milwaukee Symphony’s composer in residence,
before going on to a composition professorship at Cornell
has written a wide range of music, some of it especially
for New York-based contemporary music ensemble Continuum.
The New York Times has praised the group for its ‘viscerally
satisfying programs’, and visceral is certainly the right
word for the first work on this disc, the relatively early Vestigios rituales. Based
on Afro-Caribbean ritual chants it is a mix of competing
tempi and wild dynamics, with a hint of more traditional
rhythms buried deep in its dense and spiky undergrowth.
Bracing stuff but the even earlier Conjuros (1982)
is quite a contrast. It offers a sequence of mesmeric – and
rather beautiful – chants with a distinctly African accent,
recalling another, darker, period in the Caribbean past.
Soprano Virginia Gutiérrez makes the most of these
haunting vocalises, her voice
ideally placed and warmly recorded.
‘En Do’, the first piece of Trio tropical, is another
world again, with its edgy violin and pounding piano part.
Cellist Maria Kitsopoulos adds some welcome weight and lyricism,
especially in the movement’s more reflective moments. The
balance between the players is fine, although the violin
certainly has a razor’s edge to it. The sultry habanera with
its rippling piano figures and cello accompaniment reminds
one that this ‘Spanish’ dance has its roots much further
west, its subtle rhythms nicely judged. The meditative ‘Intermezzo
religioso y movimiento perpetuo’ evokes the cool gloom of
a church or cathedral, while the hypnotic molto perpetuo is
edgy, relentless, with admirably sustained tremolos from Kitsopoulos.
The warm, breathy tones of the clarinet are a welcome foil,
with some agile playing from David Krakauer. The clarinet
sound is certainly attractive, close without being overbearing;
the ‘Interludio nocturno’ is suitably atmospheric, the ‘Canción
de la montaña’ rather more vigorous, yet both played with
real character and flair.
The extended vocal scena ‘Glosa la sombra’ (‘Commentary
upon the shadow’) is poet Joserramón Melendez’ bleak meditation
on a Puerto Rican slum. Mezzo Ellen Lang sings movingly of
the wasteland that the tourist never sees.
After this grit Descarga is a refreshingly transparent
and lyrical change, with percussionist Erik Charlston adding
a carnival air to the proceedings. Although it is a fairly
recent work (1987-90) it is worlds way from the more rigorous
and uncompromising soundscape of Vestigios rituales and
the despair of island slums. But then that is good programming,
offering listeners a varied menu, with something to please
Enterprising as ever, Naxos has served up another stimulating
instalment in its American Classics series. For their part
Continuum play with great verve and passion, a first-class
showcase for new and challenging musical talent. Indeed,
this is so much more than a relaxed and leisurely cruise
to the tropics, it’s a real adventure.
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