Joaquín CLERCH (b.1965)
Concierto de Otoño [24:05]
Concierto de Cáceres [26:03]
Annette Maiburg (flute: Otoño) Joaquín Clerch (guitar: Cáceres)
Orquesta de Cámara de la Habana/Thomas Gabrisch
rec. Havana, Cuba, March 2011. DDD
The Cuban Joaquín Clerch is best-known as a guitarist; on the evidence of once having heard him give a recital in Salzburg, I’d say he’s a very good one, and a much better qualified judge, Eliot Fisk, has said of him that he “is undoubtedly one of the world’s leading figures, perhaps even the leading figure, among the guitarists of his generation”. His work as a composer is rather less well known; even his web-site lacks any information on this side of his musical activity. These two concertos present him as a composer extending the Latin-American tradition, a relatively conservative (my use of the adjective is purely descriptive, not judgemental) descendant of, say, Ginastera. The Latin flavour is generally present, but by no means everywhere dominant, and the writing is lucid, its sophistication unforced and free of undue elaboration.
Both concertos are in three movements. In the Concierto de Otoño (Concerto of Autumn), written for one of his regular playing partners, the excellent flautist Annette Maiburg, there’s a conventional fast-slow-fast structure, though even the outer movements are only marked ‘moderato’ - the central movement is marked ‘despacio’ (slowly). The dimesnion of Autumn which served as the composer’s starting point was, he tells, us its ‘emptiness’, understood both as the bareness of the trees and as a psychological condition, one which the composer views as having its positive as well as negative value. The first movement (like the last this is almost ten minutes long, while the middle movement is a mere five minutes in length) has a certain dryness of orchestral texture, against and over which the flute attempts something more lyrical, a lyricism which is only occasionally and briefly picked up by parts of the orchestra, and even then in its more sombre aspects. The slow movement has a contrasting gentleness, though it too is, fittingly, on the sober side. A long and very eloquent cadenza, beautifully played by Maiburg, forms the bridge to the final movement and effects a change of mood. The composer tells us that in the third movement he has chosen to “deploy Cuban folk themes à la Kafka and Stravinsky”. I can’t say that the movement strikes me as having much in common with anything by Kafka that I have ever read and even the analogy with Stravinsky strikes me as only rather approximate. But the Cuban material is certainly evident, and while the movement as a whole is far from being a matter of dance and joy unconfined, it does say much of the promise and the beginning of new vitality, of the renewed life for which autumn is a necessary preparatory stage. At times in this movement the orchestra seems, in a reversal of the opening movement, to prompt the soloist into a greater lyricism; the emptiness, literal and metaphorical, allows new growth and new clarity, so that at the close there’s a very real sense of looking forward. This is an interesting and satisfying work.
The concerto for guitar, written for the guitar festival held in Cáceres (in the Estremadura region of Spain) is a more immediately accessible work, its emotional contrasts a little simpler. The composer makes a thoroughly convincing soloist, his playing marvellously expressive, whether in the anguish of the first movement, which is given the title of ‘El dolor’ (the pain) or the calmer, though not completely untroubled, waters of the second, ‘El recuerdo’ (the memory, the souvenir), a movement full of both intensity and elegance in a manner I think of as particularly Hispanic, with some fine melodies and a brief but lovely, introspective, cadenza, as well as some fine writing for the strings. The first two movements are of similar proportions (either side of eleven minutes) and this time the third is the shortest movement. Entitled ‘El pregón de la alegria’ (the proclamation of joy) it is music of a more public nature than the deeply personal earlier movements, as if joy has been found in public festivals rather than in personal relationships; here percussion is more to the fore, with echoes of marches and dances (notably the famous Jota de Cáceres). On the whole the use of the orchestra in this concerto is more colourful and forceful than in the Concierto de Otoño, and I don’t think it is only the knowledge that the composer is a guitarist that makes one feel that the writing for the soloist is that little bit more instrumentally idiomatic, as it were. Certainly I initially preferred the Concierto de Cáceres to its companion on this disc. Later listenings have left me a good deal less sure of that preference. Both works, not least in their differences, speak of Clerch’s quality and range as a composer and both are well worth hearing. He playing of the orchestra is immaculate, conductor Thomas Gabrisch clearly has a secure and sympathetic understanding of both concertos, and the recording quality is of the highest order.
Glyn Pursglove 

Lucid, intelligent, expressive concertos well worth investigating.