E. CORDERO: Concierto Festivo for Guitar and Strings (2003). Insula:
Suite Concertante for Violin and Strings (2009). Concertino Tropical for
Violin and Strings (1998).
Pepe Romero (guitar); Guillermo Figueroa (violin); I Solisti di Zagreb.
Naxos 8.572707 TT: 51:33.
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Avoiding clichés. Many of my musical discoveries stem from my
ignorance and inattention. I once bought a CD of music by Kirchner, thinking
the American Modern Leon Kirchner, and got a charmer of a piano trio
by Theodor Kirchner, friend of Brahms. I ordered this CD thinking I was
music by the fiery Panamanian Roque Cordero. Instead, I discovered the
fiery Ernesto Cordero, guitarist and composer from Puerto Rico.
Cordero studied with, among others, the Cuban Julián Orbón,
who had settled in New York during the Sixties. He has written a ton of
guitar music. If I consider the three pieces here (the only bit of Cordero's
music I've heard), he follows Orbón's neoclassical and nationalist
musical bent, only for Puerto Rico.
As a composer, Cordero is a bit loose, weak in development. He seems
to have trouble modulating, and as a result, his music "sticks" over
long stretches, the architecture somewhat flat. Nevertheless, none of
these things seems to really matter. He has a lot of verve.
Cordero began the Concierto Festivo with the idea of avoiding guitar-music "clichés," by
which I assume he means the Latin-Iberian idiom, a powerful lure on even
non-Hispanic composers for the guitar. Even Cordero happily admits he only
partially succeeded. 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. This contrasts with a lyrical bit,
but the main rhythm, an Afro-Hispanic staple of 3+3+2, seldom leaves the
scene for long. 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, but it then changes to a quick-moving, near moto-perpetuo,
with rapid guitar figurations against the declamatory idea. 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.
Writers have variously described Ínsulá as a violin
concerto and as a suite. I lean toward suite, again mainly because architecture
isn't Cordero's long suit. The work has four movements: "Paisajes" (landscapes),
Andante con anima; "Jájome (Meditación)," Andante
affabile; "Las Indieras de Maricao" (the aboriginal Indians of
Marcao), Andantino misterioso; "Fantasia salsera," Allegro ritmico.
Most of the movements are dance-based. Cordero admits to a nod in the direction
of Satie's Gymnopédies in the serene second movement. Jájome,
incidentally, refers a mountain ridge in the middle of Puerto Rico. For
me, the most interesting movement, "Las Indieras" evokes Native
American culture through a minor pentatonic scale (eg, E-flat- G-flat -
A-flat - B-flat - D-flat). Cordero flirts with boredom here, but doesn't
succumb. The finale evokes Latin pop (think "salsa"), with,
again, the Afro-Hispanic 3+3+2 (also, incidentally, a feature of Elmer
score for The Magnificent Seven) driving much of it.
This same rhythm opens the Concertino Tropical, also for violin. The
contrast comes mainly from an extended violin cadenza as the middle,
we return to the opening idea. Cordero again seems to receive inspiration
from the Puerto Rican landscape. The work consists of the following three
movements: "Yerba bruja" (witch-herb), Allegro vivace; "Los
caobos" (the mahogany trees), Adagio malinconico; "El colibri
dorado" (the golden hummingbird), Energico. The titles describe the
music well in general, but music is never "in general." This
particular music, especially the melancholy second movement, gratifies
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
chamber ensembles, combining warmth and great musicianship. Guillermo
Figueroa has flown under the general public's radar as a violinist and
but musicians know him well. He was concertmaster of the New York City
Ballet and conductor of the New Mexico and Puerto Rico Symphonies. Mario
Davidowsky and Harold Farberman, as well as Ernesto Cordero, have written
concerted works for him. I believe he may have been the first violinist
to record all three Bartók violin sonatas on one CD. The performers
are all anybody could ask for, including the composer. I hope he thanked
S.G.S. (March 2012)