Rather curiously, this release marks the second time Naxos have published the Piano Trio no.1 by Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra. It first appeared in 2007 on their first disc devoted to his music, entitled 'New Music with a Caribbean Accent' (Naxos 8.559263). There it was performed by members of the Continuum ensemble. This is now in fact the third CD of Sierra's works released by Naxos. The second, his Missa Latina, is reviewed here.
The three piano trios featured here span nearly two decades. The jerky, hammered rhythm of the opening bars of Piano Trio no.1, segueing into a lilting Latino-jazz section, announces immediately a composer of considerable originality. The work is subtitled Trío Tropical, and the three movements incorporate the rhythms and colours of Sierra's childhood in Puerto Rico. A sultry Habanera nocturna follows the first movement, and the last, in two contrasting parts, transforms from a languorous Intermezzo religioso into an exhilarating moto perpetuo, in which the three instruments take a turn in the spotlight like sophisticated jazz soloists.
The spectacularly imaginative Piano Trio no.2 is a second trío tropical, based on a twelve-tone row untransposed and uninverted. This must be the most immediately attractive 'serial' music ever written! The first movement is entitled Clave de Mediodía. Clave is the rhythmic base of Afro-Cuban music, whose jerky pulse plays through the movement, which ends surprisingly with thirty seconds of minimalism! In his detailed liner-notes, Sierra describes the agitated, virtuosic second movement, Espejos ('Mirrors'), as a "mirage of counterpoint", and the last, which follows a brief scherzo, as "music for an imaginary ritual", likening the throbbing, almost Stravinskian rhythms to those of Afro-Caribbean drumming.
The Fanfarria, Aria y Movimiento Perpetuo is a shortish but memorable work in one movement for violin and piano. Sierra writes that the opening intervals are reminiscent of sonorities that Copland employed in his music, but that is a purely personal view - any link here with Copland seems technical at best. Sierra's stated intention for this piece, to create a "rhythmic evocation of salsa", likewise seems open to other interpretations - this is as much a European trio as it is a Latin American one. One thing that is certain is its virtuosity, particularly in the torrid perpetuo finale, superbly performed by violinist Borrego and pianist Garvayo.
The recent Piano Trio no.3, dedicated to and premiered by the Trio Arbós, is subtitled Romántico, "to denote the expansive and broad musical gestures evocative of late-nineteenth-century chamber music", in Sierra's words. At the same time, however, he again integrates Afro-Caribbean elements, succeeding once more in paying homage to the popular music of Puerto Rico by seamlessly weaving those elements into a considerable work of art music. The third movement, Con gran sentimiento, como un 'Bolero', is a particularly beautiful example; this is not Ravel's dance-like Bolero, but a Latin American ballade. The thrilling final Agitado moves back and forth between salsa and Austro-Germanic tradition with exceptional skill and invention.
The Arbós Trio have been playing together since they were founded in 1996 and have built up a sizeable discography, principally of Hispanic music. They perform Sierra's often virtuosic music with great accomplishment and conviction. Recording quality is very good throughout, but even if it were bad, this would still be an outstanding disc.