Yalil Guerra’s Works for String Orchestra

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Back In July I posted some thoughts about the music of my compatriot Yalil Guerra, whom I had come to know in a roundabout way through both You Tube and Facebook.

After being in touch, Yalil sent us a couple of CD’s – one of which features the soundtrack of the PBS travelogue “A Weekend in Havana.”

About that CD, here are two brief comments echoing my words of a month ago, when I listened to several excerpts from it by way of You Tube: “some red hot music from his pen…” and “the deeply melancholy sound of another one of those Caribbean islanders who can’t quite get homesickness out of his heart.”

The title of the other album sent to us by Guerra is Guerra Works for String Orchestra, and the titles of its seven tracks hint at the deeply romantic undercurrent that runs just beneath the surface of this young composer’s music.

In El Retrato de la Paloma (‘The Portrait of the Dove’), an eighteen minute tone poem, the journey of the title’s dove is given alternatively sweeping, playful, ecstatic, elegiac and brisk music that depicts the journey from birth to flight to first love and to escape of a beloved symbolized by the winged creature of the title.

This poetically-driven work is set to music rooted in melody which in turn is supported by lush harmonies, engaging the listener yet never lapsing into sentimentality. Our composer now and then spikes up the musical narrative with moments of dissonance. He also gives the strings markings of sforzando on their lower range, perhaps to tonally depict the sharp obstacles a new life encounters in its various stages, and in so doing adding a dose of acidity to the mix.

The composition Guerra titles A la Antigua (‘In Olden Fashion’) is redolent with nostalgia; its elegant principal melodic theme, with its languid rhythm and minor key is evocative of a colonial Cuba of long ago where Creole composer-pianists held court in the salons of the Spanish aristocracy. But Guerra intertwines the seemingly placid surface of this music with momentary interruptions of dissonance, as if to remind the listener that this idyll would soon end.

Terra Ignota (‘Unknown Land’) is a substantial piece, clocking-in at almost nineteen minutes, replete with glissandi, pizzicato, and sul ponticello instances, along with sharp attacks for the upper strings in their highest register that pit them against the underpinning of the cellos and the single bass. It is music that inhabits a region where tonality is uncertain, motifs brief, and melody is buried in snippets that appear and disappear in an unpredictable sonic landscape where massive tonal clusters threaten the harmonic stability.

Old Havana bears no Spanish language title, perhaps as if to describe that other Havana of decades ago, one not altogether Cuban… a Havana that no longer exists. The briefest of the four compositions in this CD, Guerra’s closer for his album, is intensely emotional and eons away from the clichéd perception of Cuban music as an ever happy parade of hip-swaying rhythms.

Playing this music with awesome technique and intense musicality, the Ensamble Solistas de la Habana led by its committed conductor Ivan Valiente does more than well by the composer, delivering in a performance recorded live a flawless accumulation of artistic results.

Recorded mostly in the acoustically welcoming auditorium of the National Library of Cuba, and later mixed and mastered in California, under the supervision of the composer, this CD is available for download through most digital platforms. For further information go to info@rycy.com

Rafael de Acha

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