Arturo FUENTES (b.1975)
Modular, for violin and bass clarinet (2009) [10:08]
Antecedente X, for tenor saxophone, piano and percussion (2006) [11:20]
Lightness, for violin and live electronics (2009) [9:51]
Passatempo, for ensemble (2009) [9:28]
Plexus, for tenor saxophone and live electronics (2009) [9:38]
Formantes, for flute, bass clarinet and piano (2008) [9:07]
Ensemble Intégrales (Barbara Lüneburg (violin); Michael Wagener (bass clarinet); Burkhard Friedrich (tenor saxophone); Ninon Gloger (piano); Guiomar Espineira (flute); Jonathan Shapiro (percussion))
rec. Hamburg, July 2009. DDD. SACD
NEOS 10906 [59:35]

This is the first CD dedicated entirely to the music of Mexican composer Arturo Fuentes. Ensemble Intégrales' repertoire is large, and consists of music almost exclusively by living composers. The few exceptions indicate what kind of music they specialise in, and also give a good idea of what to expect from this disc of Fuentes: Cage, Feldman, Kagel, Ligeti, Scelsi, Stockhausen, Webern, Xenakis, Zimmermann.

In other words, there is no easy listening on this disc; nothing remotely diatonic. Many would likely consider this a disc of pretentious 'so-called' music following the Darmstadt School of the Fifties and Sixties. It is true that pretty much everything here sounds as though it might be improvised, or seems at least to contain aleatoric elements - even completely random bursts of noise. Yet Fuentes has a legitimate right to write music that is not for the heart at all, but for the mind. He may never attract much in the way of audiences - in fact, it is virtually certain that he will not - but there are still people who admire this entirely intellectual approach to composition, and for those this disc promises much of interest. Everyone else might as well take the dog for a walk.

Despite the differing forces, all six works are similar on a number of levels. All were composed between 2006 and 2009, are of a similar length, and all essentially share the same aims - to explore the outer edges of dynamics, colour, texture and virtuosity. All possess a similar shimmering, edgy energy, though no obvious narrative; all make repeated extreme demands of the soloists. Presumably Intégrales perform these works as intended by the composer - the scores of some of the pieces at least must look rather forbidding. Lightness, for violin and electronics, or Formantes, for flute, bass clarinet and piano, are probably the finest works on the disc, but each piece ultimately yields its own rewards to receptive minds and ears.

Though it would have been nice to hear less of the woodwind players getting their puff back between the various demanding tasks set them by Fuentes in Plexus and Formantes, the sound quality on this studio recording is excellent, particularly in SACD mode. The booklet notes are fairly good, at least in Fuentes' original Spanish - the English version, while perfectly readable, does take more than one or two completely unjustifiable liberties in translation, often turning Fuentes' perfectly normal Spanish into unidiomatic language, and occasionally rendering it almost arcane. For example, where Fuentes writes, literally, "very similar to the experience of walking through a labyrinth", the presumably native-English translator transforms this unnecessarily, and less than accurately, into "similar to walking into a labyrinth". Or again, Fuentes: "A sentence by Paul Valéry summarises in my opinion the whole of Calvino's text: "One must be light as a bird and not as a feather"; translation: "Of these aspects developed by Calvino one sums up Calvino's text about lightness, codified in the following sentence by Paul Valéry: "light like a bird and not like a feather""! A minor matter, perhaps, but one which will certainly chafe those who know Spanish - and probably Fuentes himself if he finds out!

The booklet is an appealing, glossy affair, with a few arty-but-discreet photos. The CD case is a cardboard one which looks and feels nice when new, but which will inevitably deteriorate with use and age - for one thing, the booklet is housed in a slot which is not built to last.


For people who admire this entirely intellectual approach to composition. Everyone else might as well take the dog for a walk.