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Leo BROUWER (b. 1939)
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) [14:11]
Hoja de album – La gota de agua (Album Leaf – The Raindrop) (1996) [04:43]
Suite No.1, Antigua (1955) [06:42]
Manuel SAUMELL (1817-1870)
8 Contradanzas (arr. Leo Brouwer) [11:43]
Joaquin CLERCH (b. 1965)
Yemaya (1987) [10:29]
Graham Anthony Devine (guitar)
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.
 
No 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.
 
Naxos 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.
 
We 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.
 
Finally Yemaya, 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.
 
Bob Briggs
 



 


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