Concerto Festivo; Insula: Suite Concertante; Concertino Tropical. Pepe Romero, guitar; Guillermo Figueroa, violin; I Solisti di Zagreb. Naxos 8.572707.
Here's a pleasant surprise: Three pieces of modern classical music that are harmonic, rhythmic, and accessible, delights to listen to. It was as though somebody forgot to tell Puerto Rican composer and guitarist Ernesto Cordero (b. 1946) that serious contemporary music should be insufferable for 99% of the listening public. Throw in two world-class soloists, a world-class chamber orchestra, and a darn good recording, all for a relatively low price, and you get a genuine musical bargain.
Not that I think any of the three concertos on the disc will attain absolute "classic" status anytime soon or become a part of the basic classical repertoire. They are not quite in that rarified category that finds Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez; Cordero's melodies are pleasurable but not so memorable that they might stick with a person for long. I wouldn't expect people to be whistling the tunes when they finish the album. But I do expect they'll finish the album, and with delight.
Anyway, the program begins with the three-movement Concierto Festivo for guitar and string orchestra (2003), with guitar virtuoso Pepe Romero as soloist, accompanied by the well-established chamber ensemble I Solisti di Zagreb. A booklet note tells us that Cordero dedicated the piece to Romero, who in turn describes it as having "divine inspiration," so I suppose we can say the performance is as authoritative as it can be.
The first movement of the Concierto, Allegro elegante, alternates quick rhythms with highly lyrical sections, surprising one at each turn. Cordero marks the central slow movement Adagio con passione, so Romero takes it with a simmering passion. The finale, Energico, is just that--energetic--as well as the longest movement of the piece. It begins somewhat darkly, Romero's solo part entering late; then, when the guitar does come in, it's with a change of mood that proclaims the title of the work. My own favorite parts were the quieter, more songlike passages, which Romero plays with sweetly intense emotion.
Next up are two violin concertos that display a fusion of Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and African musical influences. The first of these concertos is the four-movement piece Insula: Suite Concertante for violin and string orchestra (2009), with violinist Guillermo Figueroa and I Solisti di Zagreb. The piece 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.
The program ends with the three-movement Concertino Tropical for violin and string orchestra (1998), again with Figueroa and I Solisti di Zagreb. It's the briefest and most vibrant of the music on the disc, although the slow movement, "The Mahogony Tree," strikes a note almost of sorrow. The conclusion, "The Golden Hummingbird," must have practically burned the strings off Figueroa's violin. In all, it's entertaining music with an abundance of soul.
Naxos recorded the music at Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, Zagreb, Croatia in 2009-2010. The two solo instruments appear fairly close up, with the ensemble spread out widely behind them. Interestingly, though, both solo instruments sound a bit warmer and less distinctly detailed than the orchestra. Nevertheless, it's a clear and well-defined presentation in a pleasantly resonant acoustic, with more-than-adequate depth, breadth, and dynamic range.
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer
For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.
For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst
I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio
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