Labels can be torn off or replaced or scrapped or peeled off. Music that sets out to speak for itself need no labels. So let us agree on one thing: Cuban-American composer is the only label that Yalil Guerra is getting from me.
Depending on your state of mind and your musical preferences, should you sit down to listen to Cuba: The Legacy (RYCY Symphonic Series, Vol. I) you might come up with a label or two of your choosing or even make up one of your own. I entreat you though, before you rush to judgment, to give this music a listening ear. You will certainly be surprised if your concept of Cuban music has thus far been rumba, mambo and salsa accompanied by below-the-waist undulations. In this case you will discover two composers of symphonic music, both Cuban, both immensely gifted, the two from generations nearly sixty years apart.
Aurelio de la Vega, now in his nineties has labored in the trenches of serious writing since graduating mid-century with a couple of post-graduate diplomas from the Ada Iglesias Music Institute of Havana. Having composed for every imaginable musical instrument in just about every possible combination, his works have traversed several stylistic periods and have earned de la Vega’s his current status as the pre-eminent living composer of Cuban origin.
His Intrata is a brief and frequently programmed work that employs massive orchestral outbursts in the brass and percussion sections contrasted to quiet interludes: a solo violin here, a solo cello there. Intrata belongs to the world of free use of the 12 tones of the scale, either in snippets of fleeting melody or in vertical blocks that know no allegiance to traditional harmony. He bases the entire structure of his intriguing composition on subterranean rhythms, achieving a huge cumulative impact.
Yalil Guerra is a chameleonic composer. I have previously reviewed two of his CD’s and have been most impressed by his charismatic music, so redolent of his and mine native Havana, with its Afro and Iberian cadences.
Here, though, Yalil Guerra is up to something different. In this, his first symphony, titled La Palma Real, after Cuba’s proudly tall royal palm, the composer rends homage to the life and struggle of José Martí, the man we Cubans call The Apostle.
In four movements, each bearing a title referential to the life of the Cuban patriot, the composer traces and echoes in musical terms the Exile, the Battle, where Marti died, the Elegy that memorializes the fallen hero, and the final Legacy.
Guerra’s four-movement Symphony no. 1 is a massively orchestrated work that calls for some heavy lifting on the part of the orchestra and its maestro, here the top-notch National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba under the loving leadership of Enrique Perez Mesa.
Like a tropical Mahler, Guerra chooses to pile up motif after motif with no obvious intention to develop and recapitulate. For him and for this listener more is simply more.
The effect is transfixing and dramatic, leaving no stone unturned.
Giraldo Garcia engineered in Havana with impeccable results. Oscar Autie remastered and mixed State-side to great effect.
For a symphonic past master in his prime this would be a laudable work. For a young master sure of his voice and of himself yet still in search-and-discover musical missions, La Palma Real is the work of a genius full of promise. And that is cause for celebration.
Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com
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