Federico RUIZ (b. 1933)
Merengue (1994) [3:45]
Pieces for children under 100 years of age (1982-94) [22:31]
Three Venezuelan Waltzes (1981-89) [7: 03]
Nocturne (1994) [8:32]
Micro-Suite (1971) [4:15]
Tropical Triptych (1993) [17:10]
Clara Rodríguez (piano)
rec. All Saints Church, Petersham, Surrey, no date given
The music of the Venezuelan composer Federico Ruiz is totally unknown outside his native country. This appears to be the first time a whole CD devoted to his music has ever appeared. The current catalogue only lists three short other items by him: two piano pieces also played by this same pianist as part of a recital of Latin-American piano music, and one song. These are indeed the only examples available from what the booklet note describes as a “vast output” including four concertos and two operas, despite the fact that between 1976 and 1991 he has been awarded a whole series of composition prizes in South American competitions.
So one must begin any review by trying to convey what sort of music this is. It is not all of the same style, with many of the pieces here being very short indeed. At one time one thinks of a sort of Latin-American Scott Joplin, with a tropical lilt; at other times (not unexpectedly) of Villa-Lobos with a jazz element added; at other times of a late species of impressionism. This is not to say that Ruiz has no distinct personal style, but that given the sheer number of short tracks - twenty-seven in all, only five over three minutes in duration - it is extremely hard to form a definite sense of it.
This is particularly true of the fourteen pieces that make up the Piezos para ninos menores de cien anos which are deliberately heterogeneous in manner and consist of a series of vignettes illustrating different characters and situations. Chaplin is the most perfect pastiche of a Joplin rag; the Waltz for Dulcinea is Ravelian in its delicacy; Dictator rides a moped returns us to the world of Joplin but then subverts this with a hilarious passage in which the piano falls over itself. On the other hand, Our Lady of Sorrows is a concentrated meditation, and Encounter between Antonio and Florentino, envisaging a meeting between Venezuelan composer Antonio Estévez and a character from one of his own operas, has a hieratic beauty that makes one wish to know more about the composer in question. The Venezuelan Waltzes are quietly rhapsodic pieces reminiscent of Lecuona in one of his more somnolent moods, and there is not much variety or contrast between the three pieces written at different times.
The Nocturne, the most recent piece on this disc and also the longest, sounds much more serious; it was written for and dedicated to the performer here. The idiom here is a bit like early Messiaen without the birdsong, and shows a more modern approach to piano timbre although it is not particularly nocturnal. The hints of Venezuelan popular styles do not appear to be totally absorbed into the whole; but this is probably the nearest we come to a sense of what Ruiz is all about. The combination of styles in the Triptico Tropical are even more disparate, but one has the sense of a personal idiom which is not at all unattractive. The final Allegro vivo movement again evokes the spirit of ragtime and Joplin to enjoyable effect before a conclusion which leads one to conclude that the spirit of Les Six is not dead – Milhaud’s Scaramouche is very close to the surface here.

Into this world the much earlier Micro-Suite intrudes like a spectre at the wedding. It consists of a series of extremely short pieces – only one of them over a minute in length – constructed on Webernian twelve-tone lines. The third movement describes itself as a passacaglia, although it hardly has enough time to get any sort of a theme going; and the half-minute ‘scherzo’ is a joke only in its inconsequential brevity. The purpose of including these pieces on this CD, clearly hardly representative of the composer’s current style and not long enough in themselves to establish any other sort of point, is not totally clear.
The booklet and back of the CD insert both contain this most weird photograph of the composer and pianist apparently meeting in something like an industrial chemical treatment works which screams out for an entry in a ‘caption competition’ – something on the lines of “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” Anyway, wherever she is Rodríguez clearly enjoys playing this music, and her enthusiasm is infectious. She has a good feel for the exuberant idioms, and swings the ragtime passages as to the manner born. And the recorded sound is excellent, in just the right sort of acoustic.
It is not clear when this recording was made, although none of the works on the CD date from later than 1994; however the booklet notes make reference to events up to and including 2010, and one would be interested to hear something from Ruiz which would demonstrate how his style has evolved in the last fifteen years and more. In the meantime we should be grateful to Rodríguez for what we are given here, and for delivering it to us so well.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
We should be grateful to Rodríguez for what we are given here and for delivering it to us so well.