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Mel Martin
Audiophile Audition, August 2013

This CD is a really nice surprise. It’s a collection of music by Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero (b.1946), and I found the Caribbean themes music engaging and worth multiple listens.

With some thrilling syncopation, and some contrasting reflective moments, the Concierto is a musical trip well worth taking.

Figueroa gives a striking and emotional performance of a work (Ínsula) he is emotionally bound to.

Concertino Tropical…has boundless energy and some remarkable playing by Figueroa that is clearly technically difficult but sounds flawless in this performance.

The Naxos recording is excellent, capturing every detail and nuance of this collection of Cordero’s works.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this CD, but it is highly recommended and something that will find its way to your CD player over and over again. …highly individualistic and worthy musical journeys. © Audiophile Audition Read complete review

MusicWeb International, August 2012

New York-born Puerto Rican composer and guitarist Ernesto Cordero may not be known to many. On the other hand performers Guillermo Figueroa and especially Pepe Romero and I Solisti di Zagreb are names that ought to grab the attention of any music lover. No one purchasing this CD primarily to hear them play will be disappointed by Cordero’s warm, melodic music, let alone any of the performances.

The programme gets off to a flying start with Romero, dedicatee of the Concierto Festivo and two years older than Cordero, proving that he still has what it takes as he swans with grace, power and expression through Cordero’s shimmering, alternately intimate and energetic Concerto.

On this recording Romero plays a standard guitar, but like no one else. In combination with Cordero’s felicitous, imaginative writing, interpolation of Caribbean ingredients, and tastefully restrained string-orchestra scoring, the effect is more invigorating than a siesta.

Romero naturally gave the premiere in 2003 along with the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra conducted by Guillermo Figueroa, which provides a neat segue into the other two equally impressive works on this disc, in which Figueroa stylishly sports his violinist’s hat. Ínsula (‘Island’) and Concertino Tropical are quite similar to each other in length, mood and scoring, with the former, as its full title implies, slightly less concerto-like than the latter. The individual movements of both works deal with Puerto Rican or Caribbean subjects, and there are consequently dance rhythms aplenty. We also encounter reflective interludes for textural and emotional contrast, in these harmonically colourful, soulful pieces that often call to mind Villa-Lobos, pre-expressionist Ginastera or, in Ínsula, Piazzolla. Ínsula was dedicated to Figueroa, and he repays the honour with a blistering performance in both works, impressively aided by the ever-dependable Solisti di Zagreb. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, May 2012

You should not expect the performers to break out in a salsa dance, but ethnic Puerto Rican elements manifest themselves throughout these three short concertante works, in the peppy rhythms, sweeping violin glissandi, and especially in the evocative solo part of Concierto Festivo. This concerto features a simply marvelous guitar solo role, composed for Pepe Romero…The Concierto is a wonder: it may not have the hummable tunes of Rodrigo’s Aranjuez, but it is cut from a similar cloth. The outer movements bristle with energy and charm, complementing a gorgeous adagio lament; small-scale orchestrations successfully support and converse with the solo guitar. That adagio, especially, has some great solo moments for violins and a cellist; the closing seconds are breathtakingly beautiful. Pepe Romero plays with his customary virtuosity and a special conviction which proves his sincere love of the Concierto, which he describes in the booklet as a “brilliant concerto” of “divine inspiration.” At 6:00 in the finale he has a cadenza which transports us to the serenades of the great romantics.

Ínsula is…a very lyrical work from the opening bars, with only one fast movement out of four; a ‘Meditación’ was written with Satie clearly on the composer’s mind. The finale, though, is a salsa fantasy which is a lot of fun.

… this one is just barely 50 minutes but well worth your time; the notes are marvelous and the sound is good…I’m very glad to have made acquaintance with this disc and this composer, and if you like Rodrigo, Orbón, or Roberto Sierra, or if you want to hear what music is being made in Puerto Rico, you, too, will find this a delightful surprise. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, May 2012

This highly impressive CD features the music of Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero (b.1946), which strikes me like a ton of bricks. The Concierto Festivo, written in 2003 and dedicated to the wonderful guitarist Pepe Romero, is here played by the dedicatee, and a spectacular piece it is. The first movement almost sounds, like the first movement of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, as if it starts in the middle, so vibrant and febrile is its musical material, so charged and syncopated are its rhythms. The second movement begins with dazzling string tremolos, perfectly executed by I Solisti di Zagreb, which then move into an alternation of solo guitar figures with the strings.

ĺnsula, a violin concerto inspired by aspects of Puerto Rico, was dedicated to Guillermo Figueroa, violinist and conductor of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra. He is the soloist here along with I Solisti di Zagreb…Each movement has a pictorial title as well as a tempo indication. The first, “Paisajes” (Andante con anima), is an imaginary trip looking at different portions of the island’s geography using a modal and Minimalist style…from the outset Figueroa shows himself to be a fine violinist with a sweet yet bright tone and fluid technique. The second movement, “Jájome” (Andante affabile), is named after a mountain ridge that apparently fills Cordero with serene peace. The music certainly reflects that, as I Solisti play with their strings muted as Figueroa weaves a simple yet charming melody around their rhythmic figures.

Concertino Tropical is the earliest piece on this disc (1998), and in some ways it is more energetic and uninhibited than the preceding two works. Figueroa plays a remarkable, virtuosic cadenza at the end of the first movement.

…this disc is very highly recommended! © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Stephen Schwartz, March 2012

Cordero began the Concierto Festivo with the idea of avoiding guitar-music “clichés,”… He begins with a declamatory, stamping idea—Bartók translated to Latin America. I especially like a particular effect: little “screams” from the violins punctuating the main idea. The second movement, gently glum and similar in feeling to, say, the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez but slightly more “pop” in idiom, alternates between the intimate and the stately. The third movement begins austerely… The longest movement of the three, it meanders the most as well, but a consistently high level of invention keeps a listener from tuning out.

…Concertino Tropica…consists of…three movements…This particular music, especially the melancholy second movement, gratifies the ear.

As for the performers, they are all, of course, royalty. Was there ever a better guitarist than Pepe Romero in his prime? For all I know, he may still be in his prime. I Solisti di Zagreb has long been one of my favorite chamber ensembles, combining warmth and great musicianship. Guillermo Figueroa has flown under the general public’s radar as a violinist and a conductor, but musicians know him well. The performers are all anybody could ask for, including the composer. I hope he thanked them. © 2012 Read complete review

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, March 2012

The music is accessible but not facile, tonal but not simplistic. Cordero wastes little time with ornament and the works have an admirable economy of expression.

The guitar concerto – written for and here played by its dedicatee, Pepe Romero - is exciting and draws on the harsh rhythmic bark of violent strumming. The orchestration is delicate and the ideas often tender. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, February 2012

Here’s a pleasant surprise: Three pieces of modern classical music that are harmonic, rhythmic, and accessible, delights to listen to…The first movement of the Concierto, Allegro elegante…surprising one at each turn…The finale, Energico, is just that—energetic—as well as the longest movement of the piece…Insula: Suite Concertante…looks at different parts of the island, different landscapes, making the music quite picturesque. The meditative parts are particularly lovely and haunting in Figueroa’s hands…Concertino Tropical [is]…the briefest and most vibrant of the music on the disc…a clear and well-defined presentation in a pleasantly resonant acoustic, with more-than-adequate depth, breadth, and dynamic range. © 2012 Classical Candor Read complete review

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, January 2012

Exemplary performances by everyone make these concerti shine all the brighter…the recordings are good. They project a modest soundstage with the soloists well placed and balanced in a reverberant acoustic that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The guitar is beautifully captured, while the string sound is generally pleasant… © 2011 Classical Lost and Found Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2011

Born in New York, but raised in the Caribbean, Ernesto Cordero is a leading guitarist with a modest output of compositions, most involving the guitar. For this information I am indebted to the notes that come with the disc for you will find little evidence of him in reference books. It is fashioned in a modern version of tonality that owes something in its orchestration to the world of ‘popular’ music. The guitar soloist in Concierto Festivo plays a very active part in the outer movements with a lot of notes in a very small space of time, the central adagio being in the mode of a romantic dinner by candlelight. The string orchestra, with some unusual effects, return to their role as the colourful partners in the energetic finale. It must be a highly challenging solo part, here played by its dedicatee, the legendary, Pepe Romero. Composed five years earlier in 1998, the Concertino Tropical is one of two concertos for violin and orchestra. Stylistically very similar to the guitar ‘concerto’, the rhythms strongly relate to the Caribbean, particularly in the dance-like outer movements. A quite short work lasting around ten minutes, it contains a virtuoso cadenza in the opening allegro vivace, a silky-smooth role in the central The Mahogany Trees, before hurtling through a brief finale that ends when we least expect it. Just as taxing is Insula, a Suite Concertante dedicated to the disc’s soloist, Guillermo Figueroa, and is a series of four musical pictures of Puerto Rico. A score that exposes any intonation shortcoming as the soloist figuratively dances around the orchestral part. Throughout the small chamber group, I Solisti di Zagreb—who gave the first performance of Insula—bring a well-rehearsed partnership. The two soloists are much to the fore in a punchy resonant sound.

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