Miguel del Aguila has for several years now been making quite
a name for himself throughout the Americas. He has been a prize-winner
of awards such as the Kennedy Centre Friedheim. He was Composer-in-Residence
with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. However his music has
hardly ever percolated beyond America.
This is not the first CD to contain some of his music but I believe
it’s the first to be devoted entirely to him. He has been
described as a composer of “turbulent fantasy” and
the anonymous booklet notes here comment that in his music there
is “captivating interplay, even fertile tension, between
Classical formal balance and Romantic excess”. I have to
say that this Uruguayan composer is a typical example of cross-over,
not though manufactured, but with a real living and genuine language
so beloved of those for whom modern music normally takes too
much concentration time.
The opening work is infectious and clever. “Charango
is built gradually from a very still and
quiet start to a manic climax via repeated and obsessive syncopated
rhythmic patterns. It then peters out after massive chords to
a thoughtful and forgiving coda. The recording seems a little
choked when the music is at its most wild. Perhaps the volume
is tricky to adjust at the beginning; nevertheless this piece
creates a promising opening impression.
The second work ‘Presto II’
is an enlarged
version of the finale of his Second String Quartet which Aguila
wrote whilst living in Vienna where the form is considered to
be ‘sacrosanct’. Apparently its performance was reviewed
as “not serious” by the local press. It is frenetic
and spends most of its time in 7/8 time. It finds time to take
a bow towards 1920s Jazz. It also contains ‘col legno’ and ‘sul
pont’ effects and ends with a shout from the players. Good
I have to describe ‘Life is a dream’
heroic failure, despite the fact that it is quite original and
at times catchy. The composer has translated a poem by Pedro
Calderon del Barca (1600-1681) about the meaning of life. This
is narrated, practically twice - incidentally there are two narrators;
the female not named - at varying points during the work’s
progress. The “reality” is represented on stage but
there is a “distant reality ... personified by the first
violin who finlly joins the on-stage performers.” There
is then a dance - “a dysfunctional jota” - with the
evocation of guitars. There’s a flavour of Andalusia and
the Phrygian mode present throughout old Spanish music is much
in evidence. It is a complex tapestry of a work and one hearing
I felt was probably quite adequate. However for the purposes
of this review I listened again and, sadly, found it even less
If you felt, as I did that Aguila is the musical grandson as
it were of Astor Piazzolla then ‘Salon Buenos
will add further ‘confirmation’.
The first movement is a Samba, which in addition to the rich
instrumental mix adds some (uncredited) disembodied, vocalising,
and demonstrates what we are told in the booklet notes that “The
three movements comprise a nostalgic musical portrait of 1950s
Buenos Aires” which “springs from the composer’s
childhood memories”. The middle movement grows from and
ends in mist but builds to a powerful climax. This is a ‘Tango
to Dream’ transition. Its thickly contrapuntal middle section
would have benefited from more air around the players. In fact
the recording as a whole is rather too close for comfort at times.
This is the longest movement but we move on to an irritating
- to this reviewer anyway - ‘Obsessed Milonga’. I
should not have been surprised because the notes quote the newspaper
the Wiener Zeitung as describing the composer as “of obsessive
vitality”. A Milonga
is incidentally an earlier
Uruguayan tango form. The flute leads off manically with the
melody and the other players repeat it in various keys for the
next four minutes.
If I have been a little luke-warm so far then all changes with
the last work. ‘Clocks’
is for piano quintet
and the composer might well have called it ‘A Clock Museum’.
This is original, colourful and pleasing. It falls into six sections.
The first 'Shelves of Clocks’ sets up a ‘tocking
and a ticking’ with the use of a polyphony of very high
pizzicatos and harmonics. There are sharp staccato piano notes.
In movement two, ‘Midnight Strikes’ there are clangorous,
resonant chords. The third is ‘The Old Clock’s tale’ which
is romantic and generally slightly ‘Hollywood’ in
effect. ‘Sundial 2000BC’ is great fun incorporating
some rugged rather primeval vocal work with which we might associate
Roman ritual. It features a 3+3+2 dance rhythm. ‘Romance
of Swiss Clocks’ makes a fascinating contrast being rather
twee and flecked with bon-bons. Finally there is the longest
movement, the riotous ‘The Joy of keeping time’ based
on various South-American dance rhythms. This ends with the clocks
in an empty museum indulging in something near to a musical orgy.
The whole disc is played with great enthusiasm. I’m not
mad on the recording quality as mentioned above but the booklet
is useful with photos and succinct musical asides.