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Leo BROUWER (b. 1939)
Guitar Music - Vol. 4
La ciudad de las columnas (Variaciones sobre ‘Pieza sin titulo’) (2004) [13:17];
Viaje a la semilla (2000) [9:05];
Nuevos estudios sencillos [14:11];
Manuel SAMUELL (1817–1870) (arr. Leo Brouwer)
8 Contradanzas [11:23];
Hoja de album – La gota de agua (1996) [4:43];
Suite No. 1 ’Antigua’ (1955) [6:42];
Joaquin CLERCH (b. 1965)
Yemaya (1987) [10:29]
Graham Anthony Devine (guitar)
rec. St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, 25–28 May 2006
NAXOS 8.570251 [70:24]


Havana-born 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 is charming.

When 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.

La 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).

As 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.

Nineteenth 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.

Brouwer’s 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.

Devine 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.

Göran Forsling 

See also Review by Bob Briggs




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