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Guitar Music of Venezuela
Nirse González (guitar)
rec. 2016, St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
NAXOS 8.573631 [63:10]

Venezuela may be, to many Europeans, a white spot on the map of classical music, but during the last dozen years or so there has been quite a stir about the educational programme El Sistema and the charismatic conductor Gustavo Dudamel. But if we scratch a little on the surface of the history of music, we find names like Reynaldo Hahn and Antonio Lauro. By all means, the former’s father was of German-Jewish extraction and he spent most of his life in France, but Lauro (1917 – 1986), though even he had an immigrant father, Italian, remained in his homeland and became one of the greatest composers for the guitar in the 20th century. He also delved deep in the Venezuelan musical tradition and is briefly present on this disc in shape of Evencia Castellanos’s composition Homenaje a Antonio Lauro (Homage to Antonio Lauro). The disc, however, focuses more distinctly on another important figure in Venezuelan classical music, Vicente Emilio Sojo, who was teacher to most of the composers on the disc and also the one who edited the national dances that open this recital. This is agreeable music and in particular Danza venezolana (tr. 2) is an interesting form of waltz, rhythmically more complex and moving from 3/4 to 6/8 and back.

Innocente José Carreño was of roughly the same age as Lauro, who helped him to compose his first guitar piece, Preludio, in 1956. It was ten years later included as the opening movement in Suite para guitarra. The prelude is repetitive in a minimalist manner, rather long-winding as a matter of fact, and the Madrigal is also a bit dull. The concluding Aire de Danza, is lively and enthusiastic, well worth returning to but otherwise the suite is less interesting than Suite No. 2, which was dedicated to Lauro and was written when Carreño was an advisor in the Venezuelan Delegation for UNESCO in Paris. It opens with a waltz, a very cantabile melody. This is followed by a melancholy serenata, originally written for guitar and voice. The third movement is a Merengue, rhythmical and melodious, and the suite concludes with an energetic Danza.

Evencio Castellanos, also belonging to the same generation as Lauro and Carreño, wrote only two pieces for guitar, thirteen years apart. Homenaje a Antonio Lauro from 1959 is quite a complex work, mixing lyrical episodes with highly dramatic and technically testing outbreaks. Evocación from circa 1972 is elegant and more streamlined and was dedicated to another great guitarist, Alirio Diaz, who also was Venezuelan. He died as recently as 2016, the same year as Carreño.

Juan Bautista Plaza was an important figure in Venezuelan music life, professor of harmony, choirmaster and later Director of Culture in the Ministry of Education. He composed choral and instrumental music and also arranged the official version of the Venezuelan national anthem. The four pieces on the present disc were composed several years apart. Homenaje a los Vihuelistas (Homage to the Vihuela Players) was dedicated to another great guitarist, Regino Sáinz de la Maza (1896 – 1981). He was a friend of Segovia and in 1940 he premiered Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez in Barcelona. The Homage expresses Plaza’s admiration of the vihuela tradition of the 16th century. Sonata Antigua, a nice piece is his homage to a somewhat later master, Domenico Scarlatti and his sonatas. Cortejo de sombras (Procession of Shadows) is, as the title suggests, slightly mysterious. This piece was again dedicated to Alirio Diaz on 23 January 1954 and the same month he wrote Lejanias.
The two composers that round off this recital represent the present times. Federico Ruiz’s music is influenced by jazz but also Venezuelan folk music, an utterly agreeable combination. In particular Valles del Tu, arranged for guitar from the piano suite Piezas para niños menores de cien años (Pieces for children under 100 years of age), is a rhythmically enticing piece that should bring down the house as an encore. Pedro Mauricio González composed Tetralogia in 2016 for Nirse González. It is a fascinating work, where he mixes atonality and Venezuelan folk music and also involves sundry unorthodox ways of playing the guitar, including percussion effects. The final Golpe (meaning “a blow”) is music that literally hits you in the solar plexus. Cool! Awesome!

I can’t remember hearing one single guitar disc from Naxos that wasn’t top level in every respect, and the present one is no exception. Nirse González handles everything with superb assurance, and with Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver as production team one knows that everything is in the safest of hands. A flower also to Graham Wade’s exemplary liner notes, from which I’ve drawn most of the information in my review.

Guitar enthusiasts need not hesitate – and the repertoire is certainly unhackneyed.

Göran Forsling

Carlos SILVA
1. El Guarenero [1:52]
Blas Maria TOVAR
2. Danza venezolana [1:22]
3. Sobre la arena [2:08]
Inocente CARREÑO (1919 – 2016)
Suite No. 2 [12:38]:
4. I. Vals [4:20]
5. II. Serenata [3:14]
6. III. Merengue [2:02]
7. IV. Danza [2:53]
Suite para guitarra (1966) [8:48]:
8. I. Preludio [3:43]
9. II. Madrigal [2:33]
10. III. Aire de Danza [2:24]
Evencio CASTELLANOS (1915 – 1984)
11. Evocación (c. 1972) [2:15]
12. Homenaje a Antonio Lauro (1959) [2:31]
Juan Bautiste PLAZA (1898 – 1965)
Obras pata guitarra (1937 – 1954) [12:21]:
13. I. Homenaje a los Vihuelistas (1937) [2:17]
14. II. Sonata antigua [3:27]
15. III. Cortejo de sombras (1954) [4:20]
16. IV. Lejanias (1954) [2:08]
Federico RUIZ (b. 1948)
17. Pieza Numero Uno (1970) [5:05]
18. Piezas para niños menores de cien años (1982 – 1994) – Valles del Tuy (arr. José Gregorio Guanchez) [2:21]
Pedro Mauricio GONZÁLEZ (b. 1959)
Tetralogía (2016) (dedicated to Nirse González) [11:05]:
19. I. Tonada [3:03]
20. II. Sangueo [2:19]
21. III. Llameda [3:15]
22. IV. Golpe [2:20]



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