LEO BROUWER: The String Quartets; String Trio – The Havana String Quartet – Zoho Classix ZM 201108, 74:21 ****:
Afro-Cuban guitarist, composer and conductor Leo Brouwer was known primarily as a guitarist until the early 1980s when an injury to one of his fingers cut short his concertizing career. He turned to conducting and composition, and his numerous works include eleven concertos for guitar and orchestra, chamber and choral works, modern ballet and over 60 film scores, including the 1993 film, “Like Water for Chocolate.” He has received over 200 international awards, including the Latin Grammy for Best Classical Music Album (2010) for this recording. He has also served as musical spokesperson for the Cuban revolution and left wing politics.
The chamber music works on this album range from 1959 to 2007 and represent forays into modern musical languages, including aleatoric music and improvisation, elements from traditional popular Cuban music, and Afro-Cuban lyricism, dance and percussive sounds. In the aleatoric (elements of the work are left to chance and the musician’s choice) Second Quartet, “Know the Matter and the Word will follow,” the Havana Quartet quotes from other classical works (Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – first movement) and others.
In Quartet No. 1 (1961) “In Memory of Bela Bartok,” Brouwer uses the stylistic language of Bartok to fashion a dramatically riveting work that effectively uses cellular themes in a cyclical manner. Especially effective is the melodically brooding Lento. If you like Bartok’s quartet masterpieces, this work will fascinate. The String Trio (1959) was written while Brouwer was studying at Juilliard with Vincent Perschetti. The pensive and beautiful two middle movements are completed by a rhythmically joyful finale “based on a Classical Theme.”
This premiere recording of Brouwer’s Fourth Quartet (2007) includes classically-derived improvisations by the second violinist, snippets from Cuban popular music, and a brief vocal obliggato by the players. It’s clever and strangely moving. The programmatic Third Quartet (1991), dedicated to the Havana Quartet, starts with a hypnotically gripping “Ritual Voice for New Year’s Eve.” The final movements, “the Impossible Dance” and “The Rhythm of the Night Changed” are ingenious examples of celebratory Afro-Cuban dance. This is powerful and striking music that deserves repeated hearings.
There is much to savor and study in the multiplicity of styles that Brouwer has used in these compositions. The Havana Quartet, founded by Brouwer in 1980, has this music in their fingers and soul. The recording is close and present.
— Robert Moon
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