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Carlos GUASTAVINO (1912–2000)
Piano music
Martin Jones (piano)
rec. 5-6 December 2005; 24-25 April 2006, Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5818-20 [3 CDs: 75:43 + 65:00 + 72:40]

Experience Classicsonline

CD1 [75:43]
Gato (1940) [1:27]
Bailecito (1940) [3:38]
Tierra Linda (1940) [3:34]
Sonatina (1945) [7:59]
Sonata in C sharp minor (1947) [15:47]
Tres Sonatinas (1949) [13:20]
Estilo A la manera popular (1952) [4:34]
La Siesta, Tres Preludios (1952) [8:02]
La trade en Rincon (1952) [2:50]
La niñas (1953) [5:57]
Romance de Cuyo (La Zamacueca) (1953) [5:04]
CD 2 [65:00]
Diez Preludios, sobre temas de canciones populares infantiles (1952) [22:43]
Diez Cantilenas Argentinas (1958) [42:12]
CD 3 [72:40]
Tres Romances Nuevos (1955) [11:00]
Pueblito, mu pueblo, Cancion Argentina (1957) [2:28]
Las Presencias (1961) [19:16]
Mis Amigos (1966) [21:35]
Diez Cantos Populares (1974) [18:15]

These three CDs present, in almost chronological order, the complete piano music of a composer who will, I imagine, be unfamiliar to most readers. Carlos Guastavino was born in Santa Fé, the capital of the northern Argentine province of the same name. After studies at home and in Buenos Aires he achieved international recognition as a pianist, touring South America, the USSR and China, and giving broadcasts on the BBC in London. His musical language is firmly rooted in tradition, believing that music should be firmly based on singable melodies and tonal harmony and written for us now, not for the discovery of future generations.

The first three pieces are delightful. A fast dance, a slow atmospheric piece and a dedication to beautiful earth, beautiful country (Tierra Linda), a phrase often used to refer to Argentina itself, get this set off to a fine start. Easily approachable, delightful to listen to, difficult to play, Guastavino has the vernacular of his country’s music at his fingertips.

The Sonatina in G minor is a light hearted piece. Already Guastavino has started to simplify his style and the sheer exuberance of the finale is a joy. The Sonata of two years later is more serious in substance but equally easy going in language, and is only let down by a rather banal fugue in the middle of the finale, but a return to the colloquial material redeems this. And so it goes for this first CD.

The second CD contains two sets of ten pieces each. The Diez Preludios are well characterized pieces, being free, and simple, settings of children’s songs and very attractive they are too. Very short, they leave you wanting more. The Diez Cantilenas Argentinas which follow are much bigger pieces, more nationalistic in feel. The tempi are, in general, leisurely and the composer takes his time to make his point. These are lovely pieces, abstract in feel with a thicker texture than the Preludios, and much more filigree writing.

The final CD starts with a shock. Here is some strong, individual music, obviously from the same hand as the earlier pieces but with more character. Until now I was beginning to wonder if Guastavino’s style developed and was most pleasingly surprised with these Tres Romances Nuevos (Three New Romances), although there are only two! Pueblito, mu pueblo, Cancion Argentina is a step backwards, being a later arrangement of a very early song, but with Las Presencias (Appearances) and Mis Amigos (My Friends) we reach Guastavino’s mature style, and most attractive it is. These fifteen short pieces are portraits of friends (some imaginary!) and they are light and delicate, full of colour and a real feel for the south. It really was worth waiting for these prizes. The final set of Popular Songs presents the most effective treatment of simple material with a childlike effortlessness.

If you’re expecting highly rhythmic, heavily accented Argentinian music of the Ginastera type, or the slinky, sexy tangos of the great Astor Piazzolla then this is not for you. What Guastavino gives us is South America through a late 19th – early 20th century European compositional style, but with the voice of the Americas always to the fore. This is not a set for playing from start to finish in one sitting, but there’s enough music of interest, and variety within the small style, here for many enjoyable visits.

Martin Jones is a fine, and always reliable, pianist so I have no doubt that his performances are of the first order, they certainly sound most authoritative - I have never seen the music so am relying entirely on my ears! - and I suspect the thoroughly enjoyed himself when recording these most enjoyable works.

The booklet is excellent, Calum MacDonald’s twelve pages of biography and discussion of the music are all one could want in helping you through music which is new to you.

Well worth having for the simple delight in solid, well crafted and unpretentious compositions and music making.

Bob Briggs

see also review by Dominy Clements





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