Francisco GUERRERO (1951–1997)
Concierto de camára (1977) [6:49]
Delta Cephei (1992) [9:36]
Vâda (1982)a [5:27]
Ars Combinatoria (1979/80) [6:48]
Anemos C (1976) [8:27]
Hyades (1994)b [12:17]
Pilar Jurado (soprano)a; Jacqueline Squarcia (soprano)a; Vicente Sabater (electronics)b; Grup Instrumental de València/Joan Cerveró
rec. Estudios Millenia, Valencia, Spain, January 2007
ANEMOS C33001 [49:29]

Guerrero left a fairly considerable output mainly consisting of chamber works of which the backbone is the substantial cycle Zayin composed between 1983 and 1997. There’s also a handful of impressive orchestral works among which Coma Berenices (1996) may be singled-out as one of his most inventive and gripping. Incidentally I reviewed a recording of his orchestral music some time ago (Col Legno WWE 1CD 20044). At the time of his death he was seemingly going through some existential crisis that had led him to complete his orchestration of Iberia. His output is of substantial quality in spite both of the rather small number of works and their generally short duration.

The disc under review presents his complete chamber output with one exception. Zayin - the entire cycle - has been recorded by the Arditti String Quartet on Almaviva DS-0127 and is well worth the search. The only work that is missing here is Op.1 Manual (1976) for piano that might have been included here at least for completeness’ sake. As can be seen from the above details all the works recorded are fairly short, but each is packed with substance. Another characteristic of Guerrero’s music is to be found in the often unusual instrumental combinations used. From this point of view, the compact and relatively unproblematic Concierto de cámara (“Chamber Concerto”) is scored for almost conventional instrumental forces: flute, bass clarinet and string quartet. It may also be one of his most readily accessible works were it only because the composer briefly alludes to cante jondo although filtered through the composer’s own lens. Another source of inspiration is reflected in the astronomical titles of some of his works: Coma Berenices, Delta Cepheis and Hyades.

Delta Cepheis is for two clarinets and string trio. In his excellent insert notes Stefano Russomanno rightly remarks that this piece may be regarded as a transitory work in Guerrero’s late output. Certain features heard in the music point towards characteristics found in his final works such as the orchestral work Sáhara (1991) and to Hyades (1994). The music, however, sounds to me as vintage Guerrero. As such, it is redolent of Xenakis or Birtwistle without being imitative.

Vâda for two sopranos and ensemble (flute, oboe, bass clarinet, percussion/two players and string quartet) was written as part of a commission by the City of Valladolid to celebrate the poet Jorge Guillén. Guerrero’s work must surely have surprised more than one in the audience for, although he used a poem by Guillén, his setting completely deconstructs the text beyond recognition. This short work displays an extraordinary energy within its short time-span and leaves one with a deep feeling of unease redeemed by the sheer exuberance of the music. Compared to this rather enigmatic work, Ars Combinatoria is almost straightforward. It is scored for a somewhat unusual wind sextet (piccolo, oboe, contrabassoon, horn, trumpet in D and trombone) in which trumpet and trombone play muted and the horn stopped. The music perfectly reflects the implication of the title in that it moves from the simple to the most complex. So, the work opens with an oboe solo followed by an astonishing duo shared by contrabassoon and trombone, later a trio for horn, trumpet and trombone and the whole group eventually joins for the final section. The global effect may – to some extent – be compared to what Michael Tippett did in the first movement of his Concerto for Orchestra; but the most remarkable thing about it is how well the instrumental sounds blend.

The comparatively early Anemos C of 1976 is scored for a fairly traditional wind ensemble (two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns) and percussion. This is the sort of ensemble that Varèse might have used and the music of this early piece is certainly indebted to Varèse and – again maybe – to Xenakis. The impact is much the same with massive blocks of sounds in the outer sections and heavy punctuation from the percussion framing a more flowing central section. Anemos C is undoubtedly one of Guerrero’s finest achievements and a work that already displays most of his music’s characteristics.

In the early 1990s Guerrero showed some interest in electro-acoustic music and apparently composed an electro-acoustic work Rigel in 1992. The otherwise well-informed insert notes do not tell us whether Rigel was integrated into Hyades or whether the electronic part of Hyades was composed especially for this work. This, however, is of marginal importance when considering the end result. Again, Guerrero’s liking for unusual instrumental combinations is much to the fore here in that Hyades is for bass flute, trombone, double bass and electronics. The work opens with soft electro-acoustic music suggesting some wide-open space. About halfway into the piece the instruments come in, their dark sounds in full opposition to the soft, almost ethereal electro-acoustics creating a remarkable ‘soundscape’ that may suggest some far-off constellation. In my earlier review of the Col Legno disc of Guerrero’s orchestral music I mentioned that Coma Berenices was really “Music of the Spheres”, if such a thing ever existed. Now, the same might be said of Hyades; it achieves the same impact of mysterious, wide-open space thanks to the composer’s acute ear for arresting sonorities.

Guerrero’s music is no easy listen. It demands repeated hearings to make its full impact but the rewards are plentiful. The composer’s inventiveness and aural imagination are such that one is carried along through the music’s sheer energy and exuberance. These performances by the Grup Instrumental de València are just superb and are very well recorded. Joan Cerveró and his colleagues offer immaculate, well prepared and committed readings of these demanding, but ultimately highly rewarding scores. I also want to single out the excellent and detailed insert notes by Stefano Russomano.

This is a magnificent release that definitely deserves wider exposure. Guerrero’s powerful, gripping and often beautiful music is far too good to pass ignored.

Hubert Culot

A superb survey of Guerrero’s often gripping and beautiful chamber music.