About this Recording
8.574016 - BROUWER, L.: Guitar Music, Vol. 5 - Danzas Rituales y Festivas, Vol. 2 / Guitar Sonatas Nos. 3, 4, 5 (P.M. González)
English  German 

Leo Brouwer (b. 1939)
Guitar Music Vol. 5


Leo Brouwer, from Havana, Cuba, has long been universally acclaimed as one of the most challenging and innovative of contemporary composers. He is also a renowned conductor and recitalist. His prolific output ranges from a multitude of guitar pieces to concertos, chamber music, and scores for over a hundred films. His guitar works have evolved over four decades embracing the avant-garde and the experimental as well as neo- Romanticism, the output ranging from solo guitar pieces to symphonic works, including concertos, chamber music, and many film scores.

Danzas Rituales y Festivas (2014–15) shows Brouwer’s mastery of composing for guitar, with its rich impressionism and superb understanding of the instrument’s natural tonal resources. Brouwer explained the suite as follows:

‘At the age of 18 I wrote the Danza Caracteristica (‘Typical Dance’) about Cuban themes. I always felt the desire to transcend a pure reply of the popular dances, for being incomparable in its dancing function and for constituting a formal “stereotype” that did not concern me. There exist delicious “valsecitos” (‘little waltzes’), tangos, batucadas or bossa novas that repeat themselves up to the satiety, except those like Rachmaninov, Ginastera, John Adams and a few more.

Where do we see the transcendence of the dance? In Ravel’s marvellous ostentation of fantasy: La Valse. This is my idea about the Ritual and Festive Dances without stopping the approach to the “popular feeling” so present in the folklore heritage. This is the second series of them, finished a few months ago.’

– Leo Brouwer, interviewed by Thérèse Wassily Saba in London, 5 December 2014.

Danzas Rituales y Festivas, Vol. 2 comprises three compositions. The first, Danza de los Ancestros (‘Dance of the Ancestors’) was completed in May 2014 and dedicated to Pedro Mateo. This extended work covers the gamut of virtuosic techniques and represents Brouwer’s later style full of complexities and varying intensities with many contrasting episodes.

Glosas Camperas (‘Rural Variations’), written in 2015 and dedicated to Alvaro Pierri, is a set of variations following a dance-like Introduction. The first Variation, after some free movement in varying time signatures, recapitulates the opening theme. Variation II is a brief and brilliant velocity study. This leads into Variation III entitled Chopiniana, which again concludes with the original theme before leading back to the second half of the Introduction and finishing with a brilliant Coda.

The world premiere of Danza de los Ancestros and Glosas Camperas was presented at the Wigmore Hall, London, performed by Andrey Lebedev on 18 May 2015 in a concert sponsored by the Julian Bream Trust.

The third movement of the triptych, Tango Matrero (‘Shoddy’ or ‘Sly Tango’), dedicated to Timo Korhonen, is certainly quite unlike the customary popular concept of the tango (whether South American or Spanish). Beginning with staccato chords it evolves into intricate patterns of sound, sometimes changing time signature, with a quieter middle section before a fiery ending.

El Decamerón Negro (‘The Black Decameron’) (1981) proved to be one of the most frequently performed and recorded of Brouwer’s compositions. The title appears to refer to the title of a collection of 40 erotic tales from Central Africa by Leo Frobenius (1873–1938), German ethnologist, archaeologist, and traveller. However Brouwer’s impressionistic legends do not adhere specifically to Frobenius’s book but establish the composer’s own representation of an Afro-Cuban fusion of influences.

Guitar Sonata No. 3 ‘Sonata del Decamerón Negro’, dedicated to the Greek guitarist Costas Cotsiolis, is a later work, first published in 2012. A substantial work of a virtuoso nature, the Sonata is particularly colourful with each movement taking a central image for its imaginative stimulus.

The first movement, Güijes y Gnomos (‘Elves and Gnomes’) takes the subject of mythical Cuban entities, similar to the leprechauns of Ireland, legendary tiny inhabitants of the countryside around whose imaginary existence many folk tales are related. After an introduction reminiscent of elements of El Decamerón Negro, the earlier work, with its angular rhythms and snatches of melody contrasted against chords and arpeggiated episodes, a slow movement recreates the music of Luis Milán’s 16th-century vihuela. This style alternates strong chords with fast scale runs. After this interlude, the original theme returns and the movement concludes with a short agitated coda.

Treno por Oyá (‘Lamentation for Oyá’) celebrates Oyá the powerful Yoruba goddess of winds and tempests, a fierce warrior and protector of women. As the goddess of change, she is also believed to watch over the dying and assist them with the transition into the afterlife. After a tranquil beginning with bell-like harmonics, the music takes the form of a slow habanera leading on to a molto vivace section of great energy. A vigorous finale of intricate virtuosity concludes the movement.

Burlesca del Aire (‘The Dance of the Wind’) takes the subtitle of Scherzo, featuring many changes of time signature and rhythmic patterns of a syncopated kind interspersed with arpeggios and agitated chords. Once again a short lento interlude is merely the calm before the storm as the first tempo returns followed by an exciting arpeggiated coda.

The final movement, La Risa de los Griots (‘The Smile of the Storyteller’) at times evokes the kora, the plucked chordophone of West Africa accompanying the storyteller’s legends. This astonishingly virtuosic movement also provides dramatic contrasts of mood and tempo.

Leo Brouwer’s Guitar Sonata No. 4 ‘Sonata del Pensador’ (‘The Thinker’s Sonata’), written in 2013, is dedicated to the Spanish guitarist Ricardo Gallén who gave the first performance at Indiana University in 2014. The composer has described Maestro Gallén as a player who ‘deals with all epochs, styles and genres’, but evades the more trivial repertoire of ‘little pieces’.

Brouwer considers this Sonata as ‘one of my most valuable pieces’ and has pointed out that this work ‘has thematic resources dating from various pieces and constituting the style of my creation such as Sketches for Piano (1961), Requiem Concert (2005) and Austral, both for guitar and orchestra’.

Recuperación de la Memoria (‘Recovery of the Memory’) is an extended movement with episodes marked according to two significant tempos each containing intricate filigree and contrasting textures. Iluminaciones (‘Illuminations’) opens with passages marked Vivace before progressing to sereno e dolce for a few bars, followed by a further burst of scale virtuosity before the slow introspective coda.

Elogio de la Meditación (‘In Praise of Meditation’) begins with a simple theme marked Moderato e sereno (‘Moderate and serene’), which is explored and elaborated upon. This develops to a compact interlude founded on the ideas fijas (‘fixed ideas’) before progressing to an episode marked con moto (‘with movement’), exploiting the guitar’s natural affinity for arpeggiated shapes and rapid scale patterns. Part of the opening section is then repeated, recapitulating the serenity of meditation.

Celebración de la Memoria (‘Celebration of the Memory’) begins with soothing harmonics before progressing to a dance-like section with intricate rhythms and complex changes of time signature from 2/4 to 5/8 and 7/16.

On 4 December 2014 Leo Brouwer attended the premiere of his Guitar Sonata No. 5 ‘Ars Combinatoria’, performed by Andrey Lebedev at St John’s Smith Square, London. Julian Bream, to whom the composition is dedicated, commissioned the work in 2013.

Ars Combinatoria’ was a term used by 18th-century theorists to describe the standard practice of re-working phrases or individual measures in different combinations to produce music in the appropriate style. In Brouwer’s Sonata No. 5 the work is based on fractals, relatively compact episodes which build up into an integrated and coherent expressiveness. The technique is one derived essentially from mathematical combinations. Brouwer has written that ‘not only do mathematics enjoy the privilege of the most unusual combinations, but also all arts take advantage of the multiplicity of spaces, equations, sounds, etc.’ Thus Bach and Bartók used combinations and intervallic relations besides periodical structures based on Fibonacci (the golden section). Many such combinations can be found throughout Brouwer’s music.

Toccata, the first movement, brings together a number of textures ranging from repeated notes to complex arpeggiated structures, strummed chords, pedal notes, Bartók pizzicato effects, etc. The second movement is a contemporary tribute to the 16th-century vihuela master Alonso Mudarra, whose Fantasía X que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico (‘Fantasia X which imitates the harp in the style of Ludovico’) is a remarkable example of a specific kind of dissonance achieved by chordal patterns across the strings, quite extraordinary in its time.

Finale features a rustic dance where a vital rhythmic momentum propels the work through complex figurations and patterns.

Graham Wade

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