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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
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)

Roberto Sierra is Puerto Rico’s finest composer and this is the fourth Naxos CD devoted to his work.

Fandangos, which commences the programme, was heard on the First Night of the Proms and seems entirely suitable. It has a clear Latin-American texture and utilizes a harpsichord works by Antonio Soler, Boccherini and Scarlatti, all very effectively. It conjures up the sensuality of this dance and the orchestral colour is most effective. A measure of its success is that I wanted to hear it again before moving on. This is very accessible music and most successfully performed.

Sinfonía no.4 is part of the great Symphonic tradition but as Sierra writes in the excellent notes it changes from within its form. The first movement starts with some foreboding before developing into more pulsating rhythms with phases of dance and some tranquility. It’s a disturbing movement with brass trumpeting and a powerful beauty. If one can imagine a Latin-American Brahms updated to the modern day — not an easy concept, I grant you — this might give you some idea of this movement. Rapido follows and hints at material from the first movement. The composer is using memory in a Proustian manner but it seems to me that only some of the fabric is used. What is here is clearly more in the nature of fragments which are sown effectively into something new. Perhaps it's just me, but I thought I heard an allusion to the final pages of the third movement of Beethoven’s Fifth just before the end. Bolero follows although it’s more of a dreamlike sequence than capturing the propulsion of Ravel’s piece. As in the previous movements there is a contrast between fast and slow music although here there is a stronger feeling of fantasy. The final movement has strong dance beats at times and a powerful Latin-American feel. As with Fandangos although this was new to me I found it attractive and is clearly a work of some substance. It would be really great to hear this live.
Carnaval has five movements inspired by mythical creatures but with a nod to Robert Schumann. The second movement Sphinxes is derived from a Schumann motif but like all the pieces here one is made aware of a Latin influence. Unicorns starts with a sublime melody and a feeling of tranquillity that is most beguiling. It conjures up images of this creature as depicted in medieval tapestries. The imagination of the composer, very strong throughout these works, is at its height here. Dragons is the penultimate movement and there is a lot of heavy breathing of fire and menace conveyed in rather a short time. There are some lovely menacing sounds at the end suggesting some creature’s sad demise. A much happier movement follows with an inspired dance of the Phoenix. Again there are more, very subtle references to Schumann. It was all too soon when the piece ended. This is true of all the works here. Sierra is always very concise and never extends his material too far.

This a hugely enjoyable CD and my only regret was that although there was room for another piece the selection finished with Carnaval. Sierra's work certainly deserves more public performances and I look forward to hearing again from him.

David Dunsmore

Previous reviews: Bert Bailey & Byzantion