Sunday, 11 December 2016

Top notch performances from Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra highlight some very fine contemporary South American composers on a new release from Harmonia Mundi

Whilst figures from the 20th century such as Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) and Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) are well known, less is heard of other South American composers, particularly contemporary ones, something which Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra seek to address on their new release from Harmonia Mundi

HMU 907670

South American Discoveries brings together orchestral works from composers from Peru, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia.

A Brazilian citizen, Jorge Villavicencio Grossman (b.1973) was born in Lima, Peru and is now a resident of the United States. Initially trained as a violinist, his work consists of solo, chamber, orchestral, vocal, choral and electroacoustic music. Wayra (2011) brings a great urgency with a forward driving, scurrying opening, full of sudden rising motifs from the woodwind and pounding rhythms. Woodwind and strings scurry around through the textures before a gentler central section full of finely orchestrated detail. This is a highly approachable, impressive piece.

Colombian composer Víctor Agudelo (b.1979) studied at the Escuela de Música Colombo-Venezolana and then at the Colegio de Música de Medellín. He has written symphonic, choral and band works as well as instrumental works. El Sombrerón (2009) rises in the basses with a rhythm provided by the wood block before expanding through the orchestra with tubular bell chimes, building in power. Soon the music slides back to a hesitant section over which strings bring a slow melody. Bells chime again and timpani pound as the music heaves itself up through passages of restrained power. The hesitant theme is heard again on low pizzicato strings before a more transparent and luminous section appears with a myriad of instrumental detail. The music quickly heads forward with a rhythmic pulse before a particularly lovely passage for hushed strings interspersed by brass phrases. The wood block eventually brings a regular beat with a tune from a whistle and a bell chime as the music falls to a silence at the end.

Chilean composer, Sebastián Vergara (b.1978) studied at the Instituto Profesional Escuela Moderna de Música and the Facultad de Artes at Universidad de Chile. His compositions include music for film, video art and documentaries as well as concert music for symphony orchestra, string orchestra, chamber ensembles and works for mixed media. As a performer he has recorded several metal rock albums. His Mecánica for 20 strings (2005) leaps in with a Latin rhythm underscored by a pounding rhythmic layer before reducing to a rather static section where the theme is slowly developed, again finding a rhythmic repeated idea. Whilst in the minimalist mould this work constantly finds subtle changes. Higher strings appear over the repeated rhythmic motif before a quieter section appears with delicate pizzicato phrases echoing the rhythmic motif around which lower strings weave. Broader string phrases appear as the rhythmic pattern increases in strength before losing power to end on a sudden pizzicato chord.

A short video of the rehearsal of this work by Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra can be seen on the composer’s website

Born in Loja, Ecuador, Diego Luzuriaga (b.1955) studied at the Quito National Conservatory and Ecuador Central University, then at the Paris Ecole Normale and later at Manhattan School of Music and Columbia University in New York. In Ecuador, he was involved in the studying, performing, and recording of native Andean folk music and Latin American music. In the earlier stages of his career he was known for his concert pieces influenced by European spectral music. More recently he has turned for his inspiration to the rhythmic and modal musical traditions of the Andes, often combining the two approaches. A regular pounding drum opens Responsorio (2000) soon overlaid by a double bass theme. A cymbal is heard as the theme is shared around the orchestra, very much with a South American flavour. The music increases in strength before a piccolo brings a jaunty theme that is woven with other instruments, still with the rhythmic drum line. There is an inexorable slow, forward drive with sudden fleeting pizzicato phrases appearing as it moves through some attractive variations. The piccolo appears again to weave with other woodwind before the music picks up in strength to pound forward to end on a last drum stroke.

Diego Vega (b.1968) studied at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia with Guillermo Gaviria and Radostina Petkova, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon and Joel Hoffman and at Cornell University with Steven Stucky and Roberto Sierra. A sudden orchestral chord with tubular bell stroke opens Música Muisca (2009) immediately followed by a gentle atmospheric theme for whole orchestra. The music develops quietly with further tubular bell chimes before a rhythmic passage with xylophone leads forward. Cellos take the theme over a rhythmic pizzicato motif that leads to a slow, melancholy section for flute around which the orchestra weaves before rising to lead to the coda with stabbing phrases and a final drum stroke.

Sebastián Errázuriz (b.1975) was born in Santiago, Chile and began his musical career as a teenager, in the Projazz Academy, studying guitar and harmony as well as participating in choirs. His professional education in composition started in the Instituto Profesional Escuela Moderna de Música. Later he went on to earn a Master of Arts Degree from Universidad de Chile. La Caravana (2003) opens with a steady rhythm in the basses which is varied as the brass join. A longer breathed theme is soon heard as the music develops. Raucous brass slides are responded to by sliding strings as the music gains in strength over which the longer melody flows. Later the music quietens to a hush as a rhythmic string pulse is heard, soon leading to an atmospheric string passage out of which individual instruments arise, bringing a rather entrancing idea. A trumpet plays a plaintive theme over pizzicato strings before the music speeds in a fast moving, rhythmic passage to a decisive coda.

Although born in Bolivia Agustín  Fernández (b.1958) now lives in the UK. He studied composition with Alberto Villalpando in La Paz, with Takeshi Iida and Akira Ifukube in Japan and Douglas Young in England. In three movements, Una música escondida (2004) Preludio con vaticinios opens with a mysterious string theme through which a piano adds gentle phrases, soon finding a faster jaunty tempo with attractive dissonances in the piano part. Pizzicato strings join before the gentler idea returns. There are moments of faster impetus later with a sudden little peak preceding the quiet coda. A rising theme for piano and orchestra opens Nana con despedida, running through a gentle string passage around which the piano picks out the theme, quite beautifully conceived. The music slowly develops an emotional edge in the string melody, growing in passion only to fall to a quieter passage for strings before a gentle coda. In the Final con campanas the piano leads the orchestra before strings and piano take the theme. This leads to a faster idea as the piano and higher strings play over a fast moving, rhythmic, hushed pizzicato background through some terrific passages as the music reaches a peak. All fall back to a hush as a cello enters, the music continuing with piano to find a sudden quiet coda.

Antonio Gervasoni (b.1973) studied piano with pianists Elke Brunke and Teresa Quesada from his homeland of Peru. He later took master classes with Russian composer Vladislav Uspensky (1937–2004), a former student of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), who encouraged him to dedicate himself to music composition. After finishing a career in computing sciences, he was admitted at the National Conservatory of Music of Peru where he studied with Peruvian composer José Sosaya. In 2007, he received the Fellowship Diploma in Composition from the London College of Music. Icarus (2003) opens quietly and slowly with a variety of instruments flowing through the orchestra. Soon a rhythmic idea gently appears but is cut off by a more flowing theme. A solo violin brings a little theme which is woven by the woodwind before a scurrying motif is heard in the lower orchestra. This flourishes into little peaks but falls back as a long held note is heard, leading to a burst of scurrying orchestral ideas, a myriad of sounds including a xylophone that allow the music to move quickly ahead, gaining a rhythm as the music dances forward to a riotous coda.

With top notch performances from Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and an excellent recording from the NRK Store Studio, Oslo, Norway this is a highly recommended way to discover some very fine contemporary South American composers. There are useful booklet notes.

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