, August 2006
Naxos continues its service to the classical guitar repertoire with this, their second collection of guitar music from Argentina (see reviews of the first volume by Gary Higginson and Andy Daly)
Victor Villadangos guides us through the works of these mostly obscure, yet mostly alive and active, composers. Two of the guitarist’s own compositions are also included. Given the unfamiliarity of some of these composers, it is unfortunate that Naxos’s usually helpful liner notes provide no insight about them at all.
Sinesi’s three works show considerable dance-inspired rhythmic vitality. In Cielo Abierto (Open Sky) this is expressed by more intricate percussion than one might this possible from tapping the guitar body. This is, however, combined effectively with moments of intensely sweet lyricism.
Moscardini’s Doña Carmen was written in memory of the composer’s grandmother. Thus, it is understandably slower-tempoed and contemplative. Still, it is a waltz, and it dances.
Pujol is a name fairly well-known to fans of the guitar and Latin American music. Piazzolla is the “tango player” to whom the present work is an elegy. Villadangos is this work’s dedicatee. The notes claim that Pujol deploys serial technique in this homage to the most famous Argentine composer, but this use of serial technique does not intrude into the consciousness of the listener.
Natali provides some Argentine flavor — literally. Sweet Maté and Hot Maté honor the herbal, tea-like drink that is a favored pick-me-up. North American readers might find the first piece evocative of a vanilla latte, and the second of a spiced chai.
If the two brief works here are indicative, Villadangos has considerable skill as a composer as well as guitarist. His are the most “modern”, tonally-edgy sounding works in this collection. He is obviously interested in combining the joy of the dance with exploration of new sounds.
Ferrer’s El Felipe is a short gato (Spanish for “cat”), a type of Argentine dance. Felipe is a tomcat; we get a brief musical window into his amorous adventures.
Coronel’s Popular Argentine Legends provides a musical tour of the folk-spiritual life of the land: goddesses, forest devils, goblins, and a child’s wake. The topics, as indicated by the composer’s titles and explained in the liner notes, remind us of native religious beliefs that remain even when the conquerors’ religion has come to be accepted. I’m not convinced that the music evokes all of these images, but it does display an interesting and compelling variety of mood.
Santillán’s study Badly Off is marked by rhythmic chord-strumming, unique on this disc. Perhaps that makes it the most folk-sounding of the many folk-inspired works here.
The most substantial work here is that of the second moderately familiar composer. Guastavino’s 3rd sonata was premiered by Villadangos. It is the most traditionally classical in form, demonstrating a more thorough domestication of the folk idioms, a form of appropriation undertaken by classical composers at least since Bach. The opening out into the time-span of traditional sonata form marks a significant mood change from the prior works, and in doing so demonstrates the compositional range that Argentinean classical music encompasses.
For fans of Latin American classical guitar music this release will be self-recommending. We have for the most part little-known repertoire that is, nevertheless, very-good to excellent. I haven’t said much yet about Villadangos’s playing, because he achieves the elusive goal of nearly transparently conveying the music directly to the listener. He sounds like he was born to play this music, both in terms of traditional classical technique and also in the unique rhythmic and percussive character of many of these pieces.