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Carlos GUASTAVINO (1912-2000)
Piano Music
10 Cantilenas Argentinas (1958)
10 Cantos Populares (1974)
El Sampedrino (1992)
Ballecito (1940)
Marcos Madrigal (piano)
rec. March 2018, Bottega del Pianoforte, Lugano, Switzerland

An important figure in Argentinian music, Guastavino was far more conservative, stylistically speaking, than his near contemporary Alberto Ginastera (born just four years after Guastavino). Guastavino’s music was determinedly tonal, with a strong emphasis on melody. Though best known for his piano music and his songs, Guastavino also composed choral, symphonic and chamber music. His music for piano was, in effect, a fusion of lessons learned from European composers such as Granados and de Falla, with the model provided by an earlier Argentinian composer, Julián Aguirre (1858-1924), writer of such sets of piano pieces as Aires Nacionales Argentinos and Aires Populaires Argentinos, along with the popular traditions of Argentina. The resulting music offers few challenges for the listener, but is generally attractive and well-made. Some of Guastavino’s works for the piano have turned up on recorded anthologies of piano music (his Sonatina in G major of 1945 has made several such appearances). The only systematic recording of Guastavino’s compositions for piano of which I am aware is by the indefatigable (and hugely talented) Martin Jones; his recording of the Complete Piano Music on 3 CDs being issued by Nimbus in 2008 (review ~ review).

Most of the music to be heard here is relatively slow, and intimate. So, for example, of the ten Cantilenas Argentinas one (‘Trébol’) is marked molto lento, six (‘Jacarandá’, ‘El ceibo’, ‘Abelarda Olmos’, ‘Juanita’, ‘Herbert’ and ‘Santa Fe Antigo’) are marked andante, some with an additional modifier, such as sostenuto, cantabile, or semplice. Of the three pieces not so far mentioned, ‘La casa’ is marked andantino, ‘Santa Fe’ moderato and ‘Adeloscencia’ allegretto moderato molto espressivo. The noun ‘Cantilena’, which Guastavino has chosen to describe these ten pieces throws the emphasis of the listener’s expectations on melody, and certainly the melodic lines most obviously capture one’s attention throughout. The titles of the individual pieces suggest memories/evocations of places significant to the composer, such as ‘Santa Fe’, where he was born and grew up; and of, I presume, friends or family, as in ‘Juanita’, ‘Herbert’ and perhaps ‘Abelardo Olmos’; or of plants characteristic of Argentina, such as the ‘Jacarandá’ and ‘El ceibo’ – the cockspur coral). The prevailing mood is, then, of melodic and nostalgic celebration. It is a mood which Marcos Madrigal captures well, with sensitive playing which never becomes self-indulgent. ‘Jacarandá’ has an appropriate lushness, while remaining gentle; Madrigal’s interpretation of ‘Juanita’ has an especially attractive grace and a sensuous tenderness. The Diez Cantilenas Argentinas are played as a genuine sequence (though several were written some years before their publication as a set), building to a real and unforced climax in ‘La casa’. Martin Jones seems to think more in terms of individual pieces, but is subtler than Madrigal in terms of varied tone-colour. In most of the Diez Cantilenas Argentinas Madrigal’s’ tempi are slower than Jones’s; both work well, though my preference would go, marginally, to Madrigal.

In the Diez Cantos Populares, the Cuban-born Madrigal finds a slightly more ‘Argentinian’ sound. In a Blindfold Test I think I would have identified Madrigal’s versions as music from South America, while I might have thought I was hearing something Spanish in Jones’ reading of these ten pieces. The difference, as the references I have just used perhaps suggest, is not great, though I do find that in several (though not all) cases Madrigal does make the melody sound just a bit ‘catchier’. Still, I think Jones discovers more variety in these pieces than Madrigal does – in whose account the ten pieces sound rather too alike.

There are two stand-alone pieces included in Madrigal’s programme, ‘El Sampedrino’ (The Man from San Pedro) and ‘Baileceito’ (Little Dance). ‘Bailecito’ was one of Guastavino’s most popular compositions and Marcos Madrigal’s performance is especially beautiful, full of feeling and subtly varied in tempo. ‘El Sampedrino’ takes its title from a poem by the Argentinian poet León Benarós (1915-2012), of which Madrigal wrote a vocal setting. Marcos Madrigal’s account of the piano piece is well-characterised, while respecting Guastavino’s typical delicacy of manner.

Great composers (like great artists and writers) create/represent a world (I think of, say, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Cervantes and Michelangelo). Most artists, in whatever medium, are ‘minor’ artists. But minor is not necessarily a synonym of bad. A good minor artist is one whose range is much narrower, whose imagination encompasses far less than a ‘world’. However, if such artists recognize their own nature, their own limitations, and don’t stray ambitiously beyond that nature, they can still be significant and valuable artists. For me, Carlos Guastavino is one such. His creative mind encompasses a nation, rather than a world, but he has the skills, the self-knowledge and the judgment to do that very well, rather than attempting artistic ‘territories’ which would have been beyond him. My pleasure in this disc of Guastavino’s piano music prompted me to take another disc of his work from my shelves, with the realization that it was a long time since I had listened to it. This was a recording of Guitar and Chamber Music (ASV DCA 933), played by Maria Isabel Siewers and the Stamic Quartet. In the booklet essay for that album, John Duarte writes of Guastavino that “His music grows from melody – the harmony follows, and he resists every compositional process that departs from traditional values”. These comments make clear both Guastavino’s strengths and the ‘limitations’ within which he chose to work.

Glyn Pursglove

Diez Cantilenas Argentinas: (1958)
1. Santa Fe para llorar [3:18]
2. Adolescencia [4:47]
3. Jacarandá [4:52]
4. El ceibo [3:18]
5. Abelarda olmos [5:08]
6. Juanita [3:55]
7. Herbert [6:38]
8. Santa Fe antiguo [3:13]
9. Trébol [2:51]
10. La casa [4:48]
Diez Cantos Populares: (1974)
11. Canto 1 [2:12]
12. Canto 2 [1:45]
13. Canto 3 [1:08]
14. Canto 4 [3:33]
15. Canto 5 [0:58]
16. Canto 6 [2:47]
17. Canto 7 [2:37]
18. Canto 8 [1:56]
19. Canto 9 [3:16]
20. Canto 10 [1:35]
21. El sampedrino (1940) [3:13]
22. Bailecito (1992) [3:26]

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