A POWERFUL COMPOSITION BY YALIL GUERRA

Cuban American composer Yalil Guerra recently posted a recording accompanied by a visual of the score of his Sonata No. 1, Siglo XXI. The pianist is fellow Cuban Marcos Madrigal.

Guerra’s previous compositions had not prepared us for this new sound, one as energetic, as free-wheeling in tonality and structure as nothing heard before in his vast oeuvre, where this valuable artist has repeatedly embraced his roots as a musical artist equally at home in music that borders the Cuban pop world only to transition into elegant compositions firmly anchored in the classical idiom.

Guerra’s Sonata No. 1, Siglo XXI begins with a Larghetto movement, the work’s tonality not established at first. After a stretch of time during which the music visits several episodes, there is a return to the initial Moderato Misterioso motif and to its subsequent Allegro Furioso with its bass pattern of pounding triplets that characterize the movement. Save for one or two brief oasis of calm and an Allegretto Grazioso that quickly transitions to impassioned and restless, the opening Allegro Furioso dominates the movement.

The second movement is a lyrical Adagio Cantabile that seeks in vain a tonality to which to anchor itself. The music leads to an Adagio Amoroso, and from that onto a Largo Maestoso. Constant changing time signatures and keys – Ab…A… G… F… and their relative minors – resolve atonally at the end.

The third movement is rhythmic, in 6/8 and driven by cascading figures in the right hand’s highest register, with 2 against 3 duplets and triplets in the left hand. A Db Molto Espressivo section marked pp and further on a section marked Cantabile hint at Guerra’s Cuban DNA in a rhythm redolent of a 19th century Habanera.  That moment is bluntly interrupted by a return to the initial 6/8 pattern this time played ff and driven at full throttle to a dramatic ending.

Guerra’ new composition reveals yet again a fertile musical mind at work. The music of his Sonata No. 1, Siglo XXI seems to be in search of a tonal and harmonic center, looking for a melody, but set upon by uncertainty and emotional upheavals given expression in the highly rhythmic sections that threaten to drown out, though never vanquish the moments of lyricism.

Marcos Madrigal delivers a powerful performance heightened by awesome technical prowess and uncanny sensitivity.

(320) Yalil Guerra: “Sonata No 1. Siglo XXI” performed by Marcos Madrigal (Score) – YouTube

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

DAVID OISTRAKH in an impressive collection

ALTO (www.altocd.com) will be releasing this September DAVID OISTRAKH: Violin Masterclass (AOTL3144.2) a ten CD set including 24 violin concertos from Bach to Vivaldi in addition to much chamber music featuring the famed Soviet violinist.

David Oistrakh – one of the greatest Russian violinists – here is heard in transfers by Paul Arden-Taylor. Oistrakh made recordings for Melodiya, the Soviet state classical music label, later marketed outside Russia by EMI in Great Britain, Angel in the United States, and most recently by Warner Classics.

Among the contents:

Bach, J S: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor; Violin Concerto No. 2 in E major; Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major

Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61; Romance No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra in G major, Op. 40; Romance No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra in F major, Op. 50

Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 9 in E minor; Hungarian Dance No. 8 in A minor; Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor; Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77

Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26; Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46

… and violin concertos and various compositions by Mendelssohn, Dvořák, Glazunov, Kabalevsky, Khachaturian, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Szymanowski, Hindemith, Vivaldi and Tartini.

Throughout many of the selections in this impressive collection Oistrakh’s playing of Baroque and Classical music by Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart is measured and sober, limpid and elegant. In Romantic music, especially that of his compatriots he excels with a formidable technique coupled to a broadly temperamental approach whether in the 19th century Tchaikovsky Violin concerto or in the 20th century works of Khachaturian, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich.

In a long line of Jewish violinists among which Gidon Kremer, Jascha Heifetz and Yehudi Menuhin stand out, David Oistrakh towers for his untiring devotion to his art even in the direst of circumstances during World War II, when he fearlessly played in its entirety Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in the central music hall during in the winter of 1942 while Stalingrad was being bombed by the enemy. 

Here he is playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kirill Kondrashin: https://youtu.be/VYHfS1urmGc

Rafael de Acha ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Music by a neglected Lithuanian master

In Jurgis Karnavicius: String Quartets Nos. 3 & 4 the ONDINE (ODE 1387-2) recording of Jurgis Karnavicius (1884–1941) last two quartets many of us are introduced to and impressed by the creative depth of this pioneer of Lithuanian concert music.

Inhabiting a stylistic period anchored by the great 19th Russian tradition at one end and the innovative tendencies of the 1920’s at the other, Karnavicius forged his own artistic path, creating compositions that resolutely reject the dictates of atonality without fully embracing any particular school of musical thought. Instead Karnavicius pens music that is freely flowing, unabashedly rhapsodic, romantic in inspiration though not Romantic in sound or structure.

His Quartet number 3 is divided into three movements: an opening Andante that immediately engages the listener’s attention, an emotionally charged second movement, Allegro by name but laden with vagaries of sentiment, and a concluding Lento. This unusual construct defines Karnavicius as a sui generis master, one ready not to reinvent the musical wheel but to imprint his music with originality.

The fourth quartet of Karnavicius has a traditional Allegro/Andante/Allegro structure, although it again evidences a compositional gift for the unpredictable, with episodic movements flawlessly held together by the composer’s genius. Still tonal, ever impassioned, the composition affords the members of the Vilnius String Quartet excellent opportunities to prove their mettle as estimable musicians, impeccable of technique, utterly musical, elegant and disciplined.

Throughout the disc the superb Vilnius String Quartet plays as a devoted ensemble of artists, fully engaged in the act of bringing to life an unjustly neglected and to date unpublished composition by a long-dead compatriot, who returned to his native country after years of teaching and composing in isolation in a Leningrad, a city where any innovative music was regarded with suspicion.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

The Escher Quartet plays Barber and Ives

For their latest offering the members of the New York-based Escher Quartet have chosen string quartets by Samuel Barber and Charles Ives.

The second movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, contains the music that he later expanded into the famous Adagio for Strings. Barber flippantly described the piece as ‘a knock-out’ even though he decided to make the quartet a two-movement work presumably to spare his ever busy self any further hard work. Here the Escher Quartet has included the movement that the composer discarded.

The Quartet plays rapturously with its usual full, deep sound, delivering a moving performance of Barber’s music, lively in the opening Allegro, lyrical and emotional in the second movement, razor sharp and decisive in the closing Allegro. In the discarded third movement the question “why” looms large, given the abundance of compositional ideas that it contains.

Barber is followed by a couple of quartets by Charles Ives, as well as a brief set of 3 Short Pieces: titled “Holding Your Own”!

Like many other compositions by Ives, his First Quartet makes extensive use of revival and gospel hymns, quoting them in all four movements, at times tonally, while the quirky Second Quartet is described by its composer as a portrayal of “… men who converse, discuss, argue, fight, shake hands, shut up, and then walk up the mountainside to view the firmament.”

Both works deserve wider exposure than what they usually get in concerts of 20th century chamber music for the select few. Here they are given muscular, bold readings that alternate with sections of surprising lyricism.

The BIS-2360 recording gets the usual TLC from BIS’ Recording Engineers.

Rafael de Acha       ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Guitarist Sean Shibe excels in a recording of French and Spanish music

Camino is guitarist Sean Shibe’s first of which we hope will be many recordings for PENTATONE.

It is an imaginatively programmed recording in which the music of Spanish composers Manuel de Falla, Federico Mompou, and Antonio José shares the attention of the artist with that of French composers Eric Satie, Francis Poulenc, and Maurice Ravel.

Ravel’s Pavane pour une Infante défunte, Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1 and Gnossiennes 1 and 3, Poulenc’s Sarabande, and de Falla’s utterly French Homenaje a Claude Debussy are given elegantly idiomatic readings by Shibe.

In the Gypsy-inflected Danza del Molinero from Falla’s El Sombrero de Tres Picos Shibe’s guitar catches on Iberian fire, teasing the listener’s appetite for more Spanish music in Shibe’s near future.

Until know I had been ignorant of the contribution that Antonio José made to Spanish music. Based on José’s Pavana Triste, here beautifully played by Sean Shibe I am eager to further explore this composer’s music.

Federico Mompou has long held a special place in the heart of those who love Spanish music, so that listeners to this elegant album will be grateful to have the Catalan composer’s ever delicate Canços i dansas 6 and 10, as well as his lively Suite Compostelana to enjoy as lovingly played by Shibe.

The recording’s engineering is beyond reproach as is the production of the album.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

FIVE MORE ESSENTIAL POP SINGERS – Four in a series

FRED ASTAIRE

Yes, he was known as a great dancer, and not as a great a singer. But just listen to him without watching him move, and you will recognize the markings of a great vocalist: flawless intonation, terrific phrasing, perfect diction, a beautiful sound, and above all, the same flair for rhythm that was ever present in his dancing. And he sang with the same elegance with which he dressed.

THE ANDREWS SISTERS

The Andrews Sisters—Patty, Maxene, and Laverne— created the template for all of the girl groups that followed from their second-tier imitators all the way to The Supremes.  They began back in the days of Vaudeville, toured to entertain our troops in World War II, and remained popular until they officially broke up in 1953. Their sound was tight as a drum, they swung, they phrased like instrumentalists.

THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER

Starting in 1969 and for more than forty years and weathering changing tastes, illnesses, accidents, and the deaths of members of both the original and the second version of this one-of-a-kind group, they sang jazz, swing, standards, Brazilian pop, rhythm and blues, and current pop music with terrific SATB harmony and terrific show biz allure.

MARIZA

Born to a black mother and a white Portuguese father in Portuguese Mozambique, six-foot tall, exotic Mariza grew up in Lisbon listening to the pop singers of her childhood and singing in her glorious voice anything that she could, including American soul, gospel and jazz. She hit her stride in her late teens as a singer of Portuguese fados – a good decision, for she has become an international star in Europe, selling over one million records worldwide.

ARETHA FRANKLIN

Singer, songwriter, and pianist, the “Queen of Soul” is one of the great singing artists of the 20th century. At the age of 18 already blessed with a natural singing voice, she embarked on a career as a recording artist for Columbia Records, later with Atlantic Records that lasted for close to sixty years, with hit songs “Respect”, “A Natural Woman”, “Amazing Grace” and “I Say a Little Prayer”.

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NASTY LITERARY RIVALS

Francisco De Quevedo y Villegas (Spain, 1580-1645) – His style was straightforward, even blunt. The preferred objects of his fury and ridicule were pretentiousness and greed, but he was also, like many Spaniards of his time fiercely anti-Semitic.

It was the great poet Luis de Góngora who was suspected of having Jewish ancestry at a time when this was dangerous in extreme, who became the victim of Quevedo’s sonnet “A una nariz.” (To a Nose).

To a Nose

To a very large nose a man once was patched

An elephant’s trunk, a superlative snout

Elongated and shaped resembling a trout

‘Twist his ears the nose was oddly attached.

It was a sundial ill placed and inactive

It was an alembic, a still at its worst

It was nosier than Ovid’s, noisy at its best

That huge nose was both bailiff and captive.

The iron ram of a man-of-war galley

Of Israel’s twelve tribes more than worthy

Exotic and pyramid-shaped: extraordinary.

It was a nose of nasal infinitude

An over-extended nose, a fierce, proud nose

Defiantly Jewish in its attitude.

Góngora reciprocated with equal virulence, mocking Quevedo’s limp, due to very deformed feet and his victim’s dark eyeglasses.

Spanish Anacreon: you’ve earned an effigy!

But I shall quite rudely dare to remark

That your sweet platitudes do not make the mark

Although those bad feet of yours deserve an elegy

Do you imitate our great Lope once more?

You gallop away still donning your rough spurs

And wearing them over the clogs of poor verse

Rather like a failed ancient Greek hero of yore

Wearing at all times your darkened spectacles

You announce that you wish to translate into Greek

A tongue you never read with or without glasses

For a while your spectacles to my naked eye please lend

So that I can shed light on your limp rhyming

And then all that’s Greek to you you’ll understand

Neither rival had the last word in this nasty tug of war that only ended when Quevedo bought the house that Góngora lived in for the sole purpose of evicting him.

Were there similar rivalries in our time? Yes!

  1. Tom Wolfe vs. Norman Mailer
  2. Norman Mailer vs. Gore Vidal
  3. V.S. Naipaul vs. Paul Theroux
  4. Mary McCarthy vs. Lillian Hellman

Rafael de Acha ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Raffi Besalyan: exhilarating temperament, complete technical equipment and immense musicality

In The Sound of Black And White, a new release by the reliably enterprising label SONO LUMINUS, the Armenian-American pianist Raffi Besalyan explores rarely heard repertoire by Oscar Levant and Earl Wild, piano versions of familiar music from the play Masquerade, and the ballets Spartacus, and Gayane by fellow Armenian Aram Khachaturian, and George Gershwin’s Three Preludes for Piano and Rhapsody in Blue.

Raffi Besalyan is an adventurously imaginative artist whose The Return – his previous album for SONO LUMINUS – was successfully received by both listeners and critics. With an international reputation that precedes him, Besalyan is comfortably open to investigating compositions off the beaten path, which unquestionably enrich the listener’s experience much more than yet another recording of the well worn concert repertoire.

Aram Khachaturian’s oeuvre has long been accepted as part of a world that is neither standard concert material nor pops concerts go-to selections. How unfortunate that is, for this often derided 20th concert, ballet, and film composer left behind an impressive musical legacy that deserves to be explored as it is in this album. In addition to bringing out the rapturous lyricism of the Adagio from Spartacus and the simplicity of the Lullaby and the exhilaration of the Sabre Dance from Gayane, Raffi Besalyan opens the CD with a partially lively, partially melancholy waltz from Masquerade. Later, listening to the neglected and groundbreaking for its time and place Sonatina in C major it is easy to understand why Khachaturian faced reprimands from the Soviet apparatchiks in charge of music for what they stupidly labeled “formalism.”

Besalyan introduces most of us listeners to Oscar Levant’s jazzy, contrapuntally intricate, harmonically gritty, boldly daring 1932 Sonatina for Piano, a three-movement tour de force chockfull of syncopated twists and turns here recorded for the very first time and offering proof positive of what alternative path Levant’s career could have taken had Hollywood not come calling time and again.

Four of Earl Wild’s 7 Virtuoso Etudes on Gershwin Songs provides Raffi Besalyan with an opportunity to put his protean technique to work along with his uncanny gift to make his piano achieve a cantabile flavor in Somebody Loves Me, Fascinatin’ Rhythm, Embraceable You and The Man I Love.

The artist shines once more in the familiar Three Preludes for Piano, brilliantly decisive in the first Allegro, poignant in the Blue Lullaby, rhythmically vibrant in the Spanish Prelude.

Besalyan offers up a Rhapsody in Blue in which for the space of nearly sixteen minutes none of the Paul Whiteman orchestration is missed, and where we get 100% of the inventiveness of the composer brought out with a bold approach to all of the many episodes that put together make this work a one of a kind staple of the American concert repertoire.

There will certainly many more CD’s issued this troubled year of 2021 but there will not be this many in which an artist of exhilarating temperament, complete technical equipment and immense musicality shares his larger than life talent in both lesser known and beloved selections.

Kudos go as well to SONO LUMINUS for a beautifully produced and superbly engineered recording.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS