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Luis Carlos FIGUEROA (b. 1923)
Suite for Orchestra (1980) [17:12]
Piano Concerto in A minor (1986) [21:12]
Concertino for Flute, String Orchestra and Timpani (1968) [10:14]
String Quartet in A major (1956) [18:09]
Wilson Casallas (piano); Bryan Muñoz (flute)
Orquesta Sinfónica del Conservatorio National de Colombia/Guerassim Voronkov
Cuarteto Q-Arte
rec. 2012, Leon de Greiff Auditorium, National University of Colombia, Bogotá
Reviewed as 16-bit lossless download from (DB)

Luis Carlos Figueroa is one of the senior figures in the classical music scene of Colombia. In 1950, armed with a grant from the Colombian government, he headed to Europe to further his musical studies. His time was mostly spent in Siena and Paris – classes with Alfred Cortot, Olivier Messiaen and Magda Tagliaferro. On return to his homeland in 1960, he taught, composed and performed, as pianist.

The Suite was only Figueroa’s second work for orchestra, which I find astonishing, given just how good it is. The notes suggest that it harks back to his time in Paris and the overarching figures of Debussy and Ravel. Those names conjure up a complexity that the Suite simply doesn’t possess. Instead, we have a charming simplicity that is absolutely winning. The writing for the woodwinds is quite special. That it would grace the playlists of ClassicFM, there is no doubt, and I mean that as a compliment. There are times when we cross over into the world of light music, especially the Valse, but at no time is there a sense of triteness.

If the other works were as good as the Suite, this would be a Recording of the Month. They are still enjoyable, but not striking. The Piano Concerto, written to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the founding of Figueroa’s home city Cali, in western Colombia. Written in the Grieg/Schumann key of A minor, it would undoubtedly be a crowd-pleaser in concert, with its Latin rhythms, showy percussion and glittering, though not complex, solo part. Listening to it in a lounge-room, it does come over as somewhat superficial. The Flute Concertino, less showy than the piano concerto, has elements of Andean folk music, and while I’m not an aficionado of flute concertos, I quite liked this.

The String Quartet, the earliest work here, is the least overtly Latin American in nature, understandable as it was written during Figueroa’s time studying in Italy. It was premiered in Siena, with Salvatore Accardo as first violin. Perhaps because this was the 1950s, Figueroa felt that he should restrain his inclination for showiness and melody. That’s not to suggest that Quartet is in the modernist camp.

The string quartet is a premiere recording, but the other three works have only been released on Colombian labels, and hence unlikely to figure in the collections of too many readers. The performances are perfectly adequate for music that is unlikely to have more recordings, enjoyable as it is. As might be expected, the student orchestra is not the last word in tonal refinement or togetherness, but they do a good enough job to help sell the music, especially in the Suite, where the woodwinds are particularly fine. If you are buying this as a download from other than the label, I suggest that you download the booklet from Toccata Classics, as the version that came from eClassical (and also from Classicsonline) appeared in a double-page format, with page 7 across from page 2, 6 from 3 and so on.

David Barker

and a further review ...

We are told that Luis Carlos Figueroa is one of the senior and much esteemed figures in Colombian music. As such this disc is very welcome as to most intents and purposes it serve as an initiation into the man's music. Given his dates we might perhaps have expected a thornier style but it is warm and welcoming.

Take the 1980 Suite for Orchestra which is in four movements: Pastoral; Nocturno; Valse and Final. The first movement is sweetly lyrical - not a million miles away from Vaughan Williams and with a lovely dialoguing stereo span in this recording. The Nocturne is notable for the hushed breathing effect of the solo woodwind. There's no striving for Latino brilliance here. The Valse is super-light, silvery and utterly frictionless. The sanguine last movement has a quick patter and once again notably satisfying recording quality and channel separation.

His three movement Piano Concerto from six years after the Suite is said to combine with classical architecture with rhythms from the Caribbean and from his home near Medellin. This is bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, eager and highly attractive music where Figueroa's gift for quietly tremblingly magical music is again on display. This time the music is noticeably South American. The soloist Wilson Casallas adopts an assertive very stony-bright tone which suits the music to a tee. Maybe the strings do sound a little steely here rather than sumptuous but nothing to worry about. The Concerto has a decorative and picturesque feeling. It stands in a tradition also marked out by Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Marx's Castelli Romani, Collet's Concerto Flamenco, Carmichael's Concerto Folklorico and the Palmgren piano concertos.

The very much earlier Concertino is short, sincere and immediately ingratiating. The kindly and slowly undulating slow movement recalls that of the Piano Concerto. This piece should be taken up by young virtuosos of the flute - achieved and aspiring.

The very early String Quartet is not at all Latino. In fact it reminded me more than a little of the RVW and Moeran string quartets. It has their bustle, buoyancy and green-shoots ecstasy. After a spiky and pugnacious second movement Scherzo there's a strangely sinister Lento that shares its disposition with that of the language of Bernard van Dieren and Zemlinsky.

Toccata tell us that the String Quartet is a first recording; the other works have not been released outside Colombia before.

This review is taken from hearing the CD as first issued.

Toccata are always up for the challenge of the unfamiliar. Are you? This is attractive music that is well worth your ear-time.

Rob Barnett



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