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Leo BROUWER (b.1939)
Concerto Elegiaco (1986) [22:23]
Tres Danzas Concertante (1958) [12:05]
Quintet for guitar and string quartet (1957, 1980s) [16:23]
Denis Sung-Hô (guitar)
Chapelle Musicale de Tournai/Philippe Gérard
Quatuor Alfama
rec. May 2006, Tournai, Athénée Jules Bara, Chapelle. DDD
FUGA LIBERA FUG524 [51:14] 
Experience Classicsonline

The Cuban composer, Leo Brouwer had Isaac Nicola as his guitar tutor and studied at both the Juilliard and at Hartt College. He has recorded for DG and Erato. His musical activities have grown to include conducting. He was permanent conductor of the Orquesta Nacional de Cuba (1981-2003). His catalogue takes in some 300 works many of which have been recorded. 

Brouwer has freshened our expectations of the classical guitar. While not rejecting the work of Rodrigo he has revived the genre with dissonant draughts that permeate recognisable moods and manners. Hispanic coolness and passion are still present but the progress and structure of ideas is achieved through suggestion rather than direct statement. The Concerto Elegiaco is his third guitar concerto. It was written for the BBC and premiered by Julian Bream with the Langham Chamber Orchestra. In 1987 Bream and Brouwer recorded the piece with the RCA Victor Chamber Orchestra. The music is poised, rhythmically challenging and constantly in motion around subtle and beautiful tendrils of melody. On a very simplistic level you might describe this as Rodrigo filtered through Berg. 

The Three Concertante Dances for string orchestra and guitar are more direct in expression with the elements of Iberian courtly passion we recognise from Rodrigo being engaged but they are mixed with a Stravinskian delicacy: sometimes steely, sometimes yielding. Subtle impressionistic half-lights are the order of the day in the second dance yet the plangent asides are developed with even sharper definition in the Elegiaco. The dances were premiered on Cuban Radio in 1958 by Brouwer and the Orchestra of Cuban Radio conducted by Roberto Valdés Arnau. 

Lastly we hear guitar juxtaposed with string quartet. This Quintet, begun at age 18, was not completed until the composer was encouraged to do so by Italian guitarist Oscar Ghiglia who gave the premiere in Florence. It is a work of violent Tippett-like onslaughts by the quartet and of pattering rhythmic insurgency by the guitar. The slow central movement is a jewel and the standout track in the whole CD.  A simple sinuous idea sings out in verdant innocence with a sentimental core - more Classic FM material. 

A refreshing take on received wisdoms about the Latin-American classical guitar.

Rob Barnett 

see also MusicWeb's Brouwer pages


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