, April 2008
Outside a small group of specialists the music of Chile is pretty much unknown in Europe . Of the names mentioned on this disc only Victor Jara and Violeta Parra can claim to be – or have been – anything approaching household names and then only within a more popular genre with political and/or social undertones.
The five composers represented here – four of them contemporaries – have assimilated elements from popular music or folk music and amalgamated them with academic compositional principles. The outcome is a programme with evocative rhythms, beautiful melodies and in some cases harsh harmonies.
What is also evident from the outset is the technical flair and brilliance of the playing. José Antonio Escobar is a fabulous guitarist, whose playing is so assured that it sounds more or less improvised. It sounds effortless – and that is not a euphemism for bland and unengaged – but he gives the impression that technical intricacies are no big deal; he can concentrate on shaping the music.
Javier Contreras is the youngest of the composers on this disc and he is also the boldest, harmonically speaking. Euclidica is virtuoso music, also requiring the player to treat the guitar as a percussion instrument. That also goes for Tonada del Retorno and Tonada a mi madre, which is fluent and vital music. The homage to Victor Jara is tranquil and here the composer has adjusted to the style in which Jara himself played.
Horacio Salinas was in the 1980s leader of the group Inti-illmani, which cooperated with John Williams; Cristalino is a reminder of that relationship. It is a movement from a longer work that would have been interesting to hear complete. It is beautiful and melodious, changing directions constantly.
Antonio Restucci’s music is also virtuosic and he has a nice feeling for melody. It is rhythmically attractive and there is more than a whiff of Argentina about it.
With Juan Antonio Sánchez we find this mix of popular and serious elements mentioned above very pronounced. It is paired with a sense of improvisation, which turns out to be truer than I first understood. For this is exactly the case: he allows the player freedom to use his imagination. Chiloética has much of this sense all through, though I don’t know to what degree Escobar plays ad lib. The guitar sonata, like so much else on this disc very recent music, has an opening movement that is dominated by the rhythmic elements, often jagged and ‘backward’. The second, Dulce, is exactly that: soft and contemplative. The third movement is quickly walking but with sudden pauses, and in the finale rhythm is again to the fore – most of it is percussive.
The sonata is a tribute to Violeta Parra, who is herself represented by 5 Anticuecas from 1961. These pieces were not written down. They were transcribed from her recordings after her death. One can hear phrases that are reminiscent of her songs but by and large this is music that stands out as highly original, not sophisticated but ‘real’. The simile may limp but this might be seen as a Chilean variant of blues. No. 5 is especially intense and – yes, bluesy.
The last word goes again to Sánchez, whose Tonada por despedita is intimate and melodious in a popular vein. One almost expects the player to start singing. As in every good encore he adds zest to the end through a sudden dramatic outburst.
Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver have provided ideal sound as usual. Juan Pablo González, Instituto de Música, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, gives much useful information on the composers and their music, even though I wish he had been allotted more space, since this is a field that is largely unknown to me.
Guitar aficionados need to hear Escobar’s absolutely stunning playing. Having played the disc three or four times I have come to terms with the music and found that it opens up and has something new to offer every time.