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MusicWeb International, December 2013

SIERRA, R.: Sinfonía No. 4 / Fandangos / Carnaval (Nashville Symphony, Guerrero) 8.559738
SIERRA: New Music with a Caribbean Accent 8.559263

These two Naxos discs, one brand-new, one first released half a dozen years ago, represent fifty per cent of this ever-obliging label’s releases to date dedicated to Sierra’s works.

Whereas Sierra’s recent orchestral music indicates a more listener-orientated approach to writing, the earlier works on New Music with a Caribbean Accent are much more demanding. There is still plenty of evidence of Sierra’s European training, including composition study under György Ligeti, in the Sinfonía no.4 and Carnaval. Even so, both works are sufficiently tonal and melodic to appeal to a reasonably broad church. The earlier disc is a tougher nut, as the opening Vestigios Rituales, a ferociously virtuosic work for two pianos, immediately clarifies. It is stunningly performed by Continuum’s two directors, Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sachs, for whom it was written. They and their fellow musicians are up against it, indeed, in almost every bar of Sierra’s chamber works. In almost all instances they are more than equal to its challenges—technically brilliant and highly receptive to the wildly inventive Sierra. In fact, both CDs are characterised by first-rate musicianship. The Nashville Symphony under Giancarlo Guerrero is well worth anyone’s money too. © 2013 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, August 2008

There are a total of six compositions on this release covering an early ten year period of compositions by Robert Sierra. The recording was done around sixteen years ago and audibly is of fine quality with a rather forward perspective and a sense of great clarity and detail. … It would probably take a couple thousand words to describe the varied compositions on this disc. Much of it is appealing, well done and offering a wide range of music making. Generally it can be described as melodic and in traditional form. Go here if you want something new and a bit different at times, but very accessible….This release is about as safe a recommendation as I can make, particularly for anyone interested in Caribbean inspired music and rather intimate small groups of musicians performing. The excellent sound quality adds "frosting to an already fine cake." Of course it is recommended.

Bruce Hodges
The Juilliard Journal Online, February 2008

Naxos continues to revive discontinued corners of the catalog, as heard in this disc (8.559263) of works by Roberto Sierra (originally on Musical Heritage Society) performed by the new-music ensemble Continuum. Born in Puerto Rico, Sierra names Ligeti and Nancarrow as favorite influences. Their stamp appears on the very first track, Vestigios rituales, an eight-minute romp for two pianists, here Cheryl Seltzer and Juilliard faculty member Joel Sachs, the group’s co-directors. Virginia Gutiérrez adds her lustrous soprano to Conjuros, a cycle of seven short songs based on chants originally from West Africa. The most recent work, Trio tropical (1991), offers sly tangos and jazz elements, fused with Sierra’s modernist leanings. Virtuoso clarinetist David Krakauer, who holds a master’s degree from Juilliard, makes the Cinco bocetos spring to life, and mezzo-soprano Ellen Lang is luminous in Glosa a la sombra (Commentary Upon the Shadow). The CD closes with Descarga (for piano and 10 instruments), which begins mysteriously, even a little innocently. But as the pulse increases and the superb Continuum players barrel through its almost quarter-hour, the meaning of the title becomes clear: “a discharge of enormous energy.”

Stephen Eddins, November 2007

Roberto Sierra, born in Puerto Rico in 1953, has one of the most attractive compositional voices among contemporary academic composers in the U.S. His works are notable for their rhythmic vitality and for the strong lyrical impulse that underlies their thoroughly modern harmonic language. The chamber music in this collection was written relatively early in Sierra's career, between 1982 and 1991. New York-based new music ensemble Continuum performs his demanding works with rock-solid technique and a strong commitment to the music's expressive content. The works range in scope from a solo to an ensemble of piano and 10 instruments. Cinco bocetos, for clarinet, is fully successful in that most treacherous genre of the extended solo for a single-line instrument. Its movements each have a strongly defined character and a compelling and engaging musical logic. Descarga, for large ensemble, is an evocative tone poem with piano in which delicate, gauzy textures evolve into bursts of propulsive energy. Vestigios rituales, for two pianos, performed by Continuum's founders Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sachs, is a virtuosic tour de force with a viscerally charged rhythmic impact. The collection serves as an excellent introduction to Sierra's early work; Naxos would do well to continue to make his work available, particularly when performed at the high level it is here. The sound is clean and well balanced.

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