Roberto SIERRA (b.1953)
Fandangos, for orchestra (2000) [11:07]
Sinfonía no.4 (2008-09) [23:12]
Carnaval, for orchestra (2007) [21:13]
Nashville Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrero
rec. Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, Tennessee, 19-21 April 2012; 20-22 September 2012 (Carnaval)
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559738 [55.35]
Roberto SIERRA (b.1953)
New Music with a Caribbean Accent
Vestigios Rituales, for two pianos (1984) [8:00]
Conjuros, for soprano and piano (1982) [10:05]
Trío Tropical, for violin, cello and piano (1981) [17:33]
Cinco Bocetos, for solo clarinet (1984) [8:53]
Glosa a la Sombra, for mezzo, clarinet, viola and piano (1987) [9:59]
Descarga, for piano and ten instruments (1987/1990) [12:42]
Continuum (Virginia Gutiérrez (soprano), Ellen Lang (mezzo), David Krakauer (clarinet), Mark Steinberg (violin), Mia Wu (viola), Maria Kitsopoulos (cello), Cheryl Seltzer (piano), Joel Sachs (piano))
rec. American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, January and November 1991
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559263 [67:13]
There is a fair amount of Puerto Rico's finest composer Roberto Sierra available across a number of labels. That said, he is most likely to appear in anthologies rather than the monograms his music merits. These two Naxos discs, one brand-new, one first released half a dozen years ago, represent fifty per cent of this ever-obliging label's releases to date dedicated to Sierra's works. As can be seen, New Music with a Caribbean Accent is a relatively old recording, originally issued by the Musical Heritage Society in 1992. In 2007 Naxos repackaging gave it a new lease of life, at the same time kicking off their de-facto-biennial series devoted to Sierra. A new and excellent recording of his Missa Latina ensued (see review), followed by a disc of piano trios performed by the Trio Arbós. The latter programme included, curiously, a second recording of the Trío Tropical, Sierra's first Piano Trio (review).
The earliest work on either of the present discs is indeed theTropical. Its lurching, hammered rhythm in the opening bars segues into a lilting Latino-jazz section and announces immediately a composer of considerable originality. As the name suggests, its three movements incorporate rhythms and colours of Sierra's childhood in Puerto Rico.
Though this work is highly suitable to wider audiences, there is another side to Sierra's music. This is the more modernist approach that can be heard in the other Piano Trios and in more obviously atonal works like Cuentos; the latter released in excellent sound on a Dorian Sono Luminus anthology in the late Nineties (DOR-93230). That same recording also featured Arturo Márquez's less well known Danzón no.4, similar in style to the No.2 made famous by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra. This is worth mentioning here because Sierra's superbly orchestrated Fandangos - so-called after the celebrated pieces by Antonio Soler (attributed) and Boccherini on which it is based - is very much in the same vein. Fandangos had a big-audience airing at the first night of the BBC Proms in 2002, but since then it has been undeservedly neglected by orchestras.
Whereas Sierra's recent orchestral music indicates a more listener-orientated approach to writing, the earlier works on New Music with a Caribbean Accent are much more demanding. There is still plenty of evidence of Sierra's European training, including composition study under György Ligeti, in the Sinfonía no.4 and Carnaval. Even so, both works are sufficiently tonal and melodic to appeal to a reasonably broad church. The earlier disc is a tougher nut, as the opening Vestigios Rituales, a ferociously virtuosic work for two pianos, immediately clarifies. It is stunningly performed by Continuum's two directors, Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sachs, for whom it was written. They and their fellow musicians are up against it, indeed, in almost every bar of Sierra's chamber works. In almost all instances they are more than equal to its challenges - technically brilliant and highly receptive to the wildly inventive Sierra. In fact, both CDs are characterised by first-rate musicianship. The Nashville Symphony under Giancarlo Guerrero is well worth anyone's money too.
The seven short songs that constitute Conjuros are arguably the only misfire anywhere. This is not helped by soprano Virginia Gutiérrez. She sounds frankly uninspired by the rather monotone ("delicately colored") invented language intended to evoke Afro-Cuban ritual chants. Mezzo Ellen Lang is much more convincing in Glosa a la Sombra, even allowing for her non-native accent. The full, depressing, sung text is kindly included with an English translation in the booklet. David Krakauer makes a pretty good job of the relatively accessible Bocetos for solo clarinet, although the sound is better on a more recent monograph from Fleur de Son Classics (FDS 57978). It is played there by Richard Faria, dedicatee of Sierra's Clarinet Sonata which is available on the same disc.
In the end, New Music with a Caribbean Accent is much more 'new music' than 'Caribbean accent'. The final track, the rhythmically boisterous Descarga ('unloading/release' … of energy), is arguably the most Caribbean-sounding by some distance. Ironically, it is also one of Sierra's most explicitly atonal works. Thus, newcomers to Sierra are probably better off initially with the orchestral disc, or indeed the Piano Trios or Missa Latina. However, these and New Music with a Caribbean Accent all confirm Sierra as Puerto Rico's most valuable musical export.
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Previous review (8559263): Dan Morgan
Reviews of Sierra on Naxos American Classics