Thursday, August 08, 2002

Sample some salsa, from mild to wild

CD reviews

By Janelle Gelfand,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Heitor Villa-Lobos: Symphony No. 10, Amerindia. Gisele Ben-Dor, conductor; Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra and Choral Society; UCSB Chamber Choir; Donald Brinegar Singers; Nmon Ford-Livene, bass-baritone; Carlo Scibelli, tenor; Carla Wood, mezzo. (Koch; $17.98) Three and a half stars.

        Uruguayan-born conductor Gisele Ben-Dor has done much to champion the music of Latin America. Although music lovers know Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras, this extraordinary world premiere recording offers an opulent, exciting sound world of massive and wide-ranging scope — sort of like hearing a Brazilian Mahler.

        Villa-Lobos composed his Tenth Symphony — an oratorio in five parts for huge orchestra, chorus and soloists — for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Sao Paulo in 1952, though it wasn't premiered until 1957.

        Its texts, from a 16th-century Jesuit missionary, are in native Tupi dialect, Latin and Portuguese. The orchestration calls for quadruple brass and a battery of percussion. Earthy rhythms and titles like “The Earth and its Creatures” and “The Infernal Dragon” often recall Stravinsky.

        Its busy first movement is brilliant and melodic in a Gershwinesque sort of way. The third movement, a bright scherzo, evokes “black-lipped, magical small monkeys.” The final two movements, in which Latin text is sung with lush choral textures, soar to a grandiose climax of hallelujahs.

        It all threatens to go into sensory overload, but Ms. Ben-Dor expertly harnesses her forces and projects an interpretation that is unified, convincing and, at times, thrilling. The orchestra, soloists and choruses perform admirably, from broad, big-boned brass themes to mystical wordless vocalizations.

        LAGQ Latin (Telarc; $15.99) Four stars

        I can't think of any music — or any ensemble — I'd rather unwind tothan the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet playing Latin music. Its latest album is a sensual, lyrical and rhythmic mix, beautifully played. An arrangement of Sting's tuneful “Fragile” opens the collection of 17 tunes; the album ends with the slow movement from Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez.

        The moods are diverse. “Hasta Alicia Baila,” by Cuban composer Eduardo Martin, is based on the guaguanco, a Cuban rumba, accompanied by percussive tapping on the instruments. Tango master Astor Piazzolla's ""Fuga y Misterio” (a fugue) evolves into an inventive improvisation in slow motion. Two pieces from Aaron Copland's picturesque Latin American Sketches emerge as evocative tone paintings.

        A bonus is guitarist William Kanengiser's virtuoso arrangement of Carmen, the suite from Bizet's opera.

        The sonically lush recording is due in stores Sept. 24.

        Osvaldo Golijov: Yiddishbbuk. St. Lawrence String Quartet; Todd Palmer, clarinets; the Ying Quartet. (EMI Classics; CD: $15.99) Four stars.

        The 42-year-old composer indicates “Macho, cool and dangerous” on the score of Last Round for two quartets and string bass, in homage to tango master Aster Piazzolla. The first movement is urgent, driving and powerful, like a whirling tango that becomes hotter by the minute; the second is sensuous and lyrical. This truly extraordinary music is given a hair-raising performance by the St. Lawrence and Ying quartets with bassist Mark Dresser.

        Mr. Golijov's Jewish roots come to the fore in “Lullaby and Doina,” a set of haunting variations on a Yiddish lullaby — and a wild gypsy dance (“Doina”) — that he wrote for Sally Potter's film The Man Who Cried. The St. Lawrence Quartet is joined by clarinetist Todd Palmer, flutist Tara Helen O'Connor and Mr. Dresser on bass.

        In contrast, Yiddishbbuk, for string quartet, is alternately ethereal and searing. Mr. Golijov attempts to reconstruct music of psalms discovered in a collection called Yiddishbbuk, owned by Franz Kafka, in the album's most listener-challenging work. Its three movements are homage to three children who died in the Terezin concentration camp, writer Isaac Bashevis Singer and musician Leonard Bernstein.

        Its driving intensity becomes almost visceral. High harmonics intone haunting themes, and sustained tones are interrupted by wails and cries. The quartet performs with razor-sharp intonation and stunning power.

        The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, for quartet and clarinet, blends Jewish liturgical and Klezmer music. Mr. Palmer takes on the role of the cantor in the first movement; he and the quartet capture the Klezmer style of the second with energized abandon.



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