JIMMY LÓPEZ: Péru Negro; Synesthésie; Lord of the Air; América Salvaje – HM

JIMMY LÓPEZ: Péru Negro; Synesthésie; Lord of the Air; América Salvaje – Jesus Castro-Balbi, cello/Norwegian Radio Orch./ Miguel Harth-Bedoya – Harmonia mundi HMU 907628, 77:39 (8/14/15) ****:

Bold new works from this exciting new composer.

Strictly speaking, Peruvian-born Jimmy Lopez is not ‘new’ – except to me. In fact, López was recently hailed by The Chicago Sun-Times as, ”one of the most interesting young composers working anywhere today.” It is easy to see why based on these four captivating works included here.

Lopez’s sound is fully tonal and fully exciting with a feel that contains much of his South American roots and an almost cinematic breadth. There are spots that reminded me of Chavez, Revueltas and also John Adams and various film scores. It is nearly impossible to describe and all the more refreshing for it.
Lopez is also a very cosmopolitan and widely educated man, having received training in his homeland of Peru, also at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and a doctorate at UC Berkeley. The four works here are all diverse and representative of his highly attractive style.

For example, his Péru Negro (Black Peru) is based on indigenous Afro-Peruvia melodies and was written for the present conductor, Miguel Harth-Bedoya. There is a central motive that uses notes corresponding to the letters of his name and the pieces pays exciting homage to the implicit folk music without actually ever quoting any of it.

Synthesthésie is based on the concept (also explored by Alexander Scriabin) that some people “see” pitches as colors (purportedly Scriabin had this ability/affliction.) Lopez’s work seeks to explore different senses as expressed by different tonalities and orchestral color; hence the name. Regardless, this is a brief but very atmospheric work, very well-orchestrated.

Lord of the Air is a highly creative concerto for cello and orchestra based on images of the great primitive Andean bird, the condor. There are four movements here that depict various aspects of the condor’s behaviors and the sense one gets while watching the great bird soar. Soloist Jesus Castro-Balbi, for whom the work was written, does an excellent job with both the technical demands of this piece but also in portraying the imposing majesty of this creature. This is a truly exciting and captivating piece!

Lastly, we have América Salvaje (Wild Americas), a sort of tone poem that uses native Andean instruments and tribal rituals to build a sonic portrait of what Lopez’s Peru used to be and – in its most remote regions – still is. The work keeps building to an exciting and conclusion and takes its inspiration from the poem, “Blasón” by Jose Santos Chocano.

I was absolutely amazed at this album; especially by Lord of the Air. I went from not knowing who Jimmy Lopez is to needing to seek out more. He is an important and unique voice in the younger generation of contemporary composers. I strongly recommend this album to anyone seeking a new source of ‘modern’ music that also is vastly entertaining and rewarding.

—Daniel Coombs

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