SERGIO CERVETTI ‘Keyboard 3’ = SERGIO CERVETTI: Tres Estudios Australes; Alberada; Hard Rock; Candombe; Seven Farewells to Paradise; In Principio Erat Verbum – Karolina Rojahn, piano/Sergio Cervetti, piano/Maria Teresa Chenlo, harpsichord/Karel Martinek, organ – Navona Records NV5900 (Distr. by Naxos) 67:57 ****:

Awhile ago I had occasion to review a Navona release of some of Sergio Cervetti’s orchestral music (NV5872) and found it complex and hard to define but pretty interesting. Uruguay native Cervetti graduated from the Peabody Conservatory and served from over twenty years as a composition professor at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Cervetti has written in every genre and for a variety of venues. This present collection of some of his music for keyboards leaves me the same impression.

To start with the one work for solo organ, In Principio Erat Verbum, this is a very haunting and “church-like” work that, in the composer’s notes, is a companion piece to a choral work of his that draws from the Gospel of John. The religious background of the piece and the fact that it does sound very spiritual is also attributable to Cervetti’s intent that the work was written in the style of a Baroque organ prelude. This is a very nice work that, ultimately, could sound like many other organ preludes; contemporary or otherwise.

Cervetti’s three short works for solo harpsichord present some very different styles. Alberada and Hard Rock both stem from 1993 and were both written for harpsichordist Maria Teresa Chenlo. The first is a work written in homage to an 18th century Spanish composer, Sebastian Albero, who apparently used bar lines only infrequently to liberate the performer’s interpretation of rhythmic flow. Hard Rock is intended to depict in a somewhat sarcastic way the stereotypical rhythms and harmonies of popular music. I found both of these pieces somewhat interesting but not ultimately lasting in their impression. Candombe is based on some traditional Uruguayan dance rhythms and forms and actually translates well for harpsichord. I enjoyed this piece the most of the three harpsichord works.

For me, the two piano works in this collection are the most interesting things herein. The opening work, Tres Estudios Australes, is a three-movement rhapsodic flourish on themes of the composer’s culture and surroundings. The opening movement, “Young Blood in the Falklands” is a reflection on the too-young Argentine soldiers who died during the 1982 Falkland Islands war. “The Hole in the Sky of the Antarctic” reflects on the composer’s thoughts on damage to the polar ozone layers and related climate issues, while the closing “The Magellan Clouds” is a rhythmically complex depiction of the fascinating skies that Cervetti used to look up at and ponder as a youngster. This twenty-five minute plus work is much more interesting than the derivation of its program. This is a rather late Romantic and intense work reminiscent in parts of Liszt or Scriabin and is quite fascinating.

The Seven Farewells to Paradise is based on seven lines of text from Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and some ink drawings by Gustave Dore on the same subject. The composer’s notes also point out that the work was written for friend Allen Greer and, therefore, principal motives are based on the notes A-E-G-E-E and their harmonic implications. More importantly, again, the work impresses without its context and in a similar way to the Three Etudes. This is an extended work with a feel that is vaguely “modern” and reminiscent of some virtuosic piano repertoire of the early twentieth century.

Sergio Cervetti remains, for me, a very interesting composer who writes in a complex and hard to describe style that draws upon his Uruguayan culture as well as a blend of the traditional and the “modern.”  In the case of this album, I was very impressed with the two piano works but not as much with the others. I believe that keyboard players would find this disc worth exploring but may find the Tres Estudios Australes the most compelling work.

—Daniel Coombs