Ernesto CORDERO (b.1946)
Concierto Festivo, for guitar and string orchestra (2003) [24:31]
Ínsula: Suite Concertante, for violin and string orchestra (2009) [16:13]
Concertino Tropical, for violin and string orchestra (1998) [10:49]
Pepe Romero (guitar);Guillermo Figueroa (violin)
I Solisti di Zagreb
rec. Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, Zagreb, Croatia, 14-15 February 2009; 15-16 May 2010 (Concierto Festivo). DDD
New York-born Puerto Rican composer and guitarist Ernesto Cordero may not be known to many. On the other hand performers Guillermo Figueroa and especially Pepe Romero and I Solisti di Zagreb are names that ought to grab the attention of any music lover. No one purchasing this CD primarily to hear them play will be disappointed by Cordero's warm, melodic music, let alone any of the performances.
The programme gets off to a flying start with Romero, dedicatee of the Concierto Festivo and two years older than Cordero, proving that he still has what it takes as he swans with grace, power and expression through Cordero's shimmering, alternately intimate and energetic Concerto. Romero himself describes the work, admittedly somewhat flamboyantly, as "a wonderful bridal feast where the extraordinary knowledge of the guitar and the divine inspiration of singular composer Ernesto Cordero wed." Though there are certainly elements of Spanish folk music, the work, against expectation perhaps, is not reminiscent of Rodrigo, at least not his Aranjuez Concerto. The influence of his Concierto para una Fiesta is more apparent, but it is the two blue-sky Guitar Concertos of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco with which it has most in common.
Incidentally, this is not the first CD of concertos by Cordero: this one, for example, appeared well over a decade ago - perhaps where Naxos got their idea for a title from! That disc featured Cordero's Concerto for the Puerto Rican national instrument, an ethnic lute known as a cuatro, the Spanish for 'four', after the number of strings it originally had. On this recording Romero plays a standard guitar, but like no one else. In combination with Cordero's felicitous, imaginative writing, interpolation of Caribbean ingredients, and tastefully restrained string-orchestra scoring, the effect is more invigorating than a siesta.
Romero naturally gave the premiere in 2003 along with the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra conducted by Guillermo Figueroa, which provides a neat segue into the other two equally impressive works on this disc, in which Figueroa stylishly sports his violinist's hat. Ínsula ('Island') and Concertino Tropical are quite similar to each other in length, mood and scoring, with the former, as its full title implies, slightly less concerto-like than the latter. The individual movements of both works deal with Puerto Rican or Caribbean subjects, and there are consequently dance rhythms aplenty. We also encounter reflective interludes for textural and emotional contrast, in these harmonically colourful, soulful pieces that often call to mind Villa-Lobos, pre-expressionist Ginastera or, in Ínsula, Piazzolla. Ínsula was dedicated to Figueroa, and he repays the honour with a blistering performance in both works, impressively aided by the ever-dependable Solisti di Zagreb.
Sound quality is good - perhaps a little over-reverberant in the two violin works. Detailed notes on the works are supplied by Cordero himself. The CD is disappointingly short, but that is just about the only cause for complaint.
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That the CD is disappointingly short is just about the only cause for complaint. 

See also reviews by Brian Reinhart and Rob Barnett