Ernesto CORDERO (b.1946)
Concierto Festivo, for guitar and string orchestra (2003) [24:30]
Ínsula, Suite Concertante, for violin and string orchestra (2009) [16:10]
Concertino Tropical, for violin and string orchestra (1998) [10:46]
Pepe Romero (guitar) Guillermo Figueroa (violin)
I Solisti di Zagreb
rec. 14-15 February 2009 (violin works), 15-16 May 2010 (guitar works), Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, Zagreb, Croatia
NAXOS 8.572707 [51:26]
Besides being Pepe Romero’s Naxos debut, this CD is an introduction to the Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero. He studied composition at the Royal Conservatory in Spain, and spent a year studying with Julian Orbón. Cordero rather self-effacingly describes his music as an unsuccessful attempt to escape his heritage. “I promised myself not to be influenced, or to include, elements from the folklore of my native Caribbean island….Yet it seems I was doomed to fail.”
And that’s fortunate for us. You should not expect the performers to break out in a salsa dance, but ethnic Puerto Rican elements manifest themselves throughout these three short concertante works, in the peppy rhythms, sweeping violin glissandi, and especially in the evocative solo part of Concierto Festivo. This concerto features a simply marvelous guitar solo role, composed for Pepe Romero, who advised Cordero on some points and (so the notes tell us) shared with Cordero a few cigars and bottles of wine. The Concierto is a wonder: it may not have the hummable tunes of Rodrigo’s Aranjuez, but it is cut from a similar cloth. The outer movements bristle with energy and charm, complementing a gorgeous adagio lament; small-scale orchestrations successfully support and converse with the solo guitar. That adagio, especially, has some great solo moments for violins and a cellist; the closing seconds are breathtakingly beautiful. Pepe Romero plays with his customary virtuosity and a special conviction which proves his sincere love of the Concierto, which he describes in the booklet as a “brilliant concerto” of “divine inspiration.” At 6:00 in the finale he has a cadenza which transports us to the serenades of the great romantics.
The other two works here are for violin and orchestra, and they’re much shorter. Ínsula, a four-movement suite concertante, lasts just sixteen minutes, and the Concertino Tropical is even shorter still. Ínsula is, like the guitar concerto, performed by its dedicatee, Guillermo Figueroa, a founding member and concertmaster of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. It’s a very lyrical work from the opening bars, with only one fast movement out of four; a ‘Meditación’ was written with Satie clearly on the composer’s mind. The finale, though, is a salsa fantasy which is a lot of fun. Concertino Tropical might be my least favorite work on the disc, mostly because the first movement mines less successfully the same vein as the later Concierto Festivo. There remain great touches throughout, though: the first movement briefly features an extra violin soloist, the slow movement is a melancholy adagio which sets European and indigenous musical ideas in dialogue, and the finale is a sort of Puerto Rican answer to Flight of the Bumblebee. This time the animal is a hummingbird and the music it reminds me of is actually Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher (specifically the scherzo).
I do rather wish there was more of Cordero’s work on here; the booklet notes say that he has written eight concertos in all, four for guitar, two for violin, one for flute doubling on piccolo, and one for the cuatro, a smaller variant of the guitar which is Puerto Rico’s national instrument. Maybe this portends another release later on? In any case, this one is just barely 50 minutes but well worth your time; the notes are marvelous and the sound is good, although the sessions for the guitar concerto are noticeably more flattering to the soloist. I’m very glad to have made acquaintance with this disc and this composer, and if you like Rodrigo, Orbón, or Roberto Sierra, or if you want to hear what music is being made in Puerto Rico, you, too, will find this a delightful surprise.
Brian Reinhart
If you want to hear what music is being made in Puerto Rico, you’ll find this a delightful surprise, especially a brilliant new guitar concerto for Pepe Romero.

See also review by Rob Barnett