SERGIO CERVETTI ‘Nazca and Other Works’ = Leyenda; Chacona Para El Martirio De Athualpa; Nazca; Madrigal III – Monika Knoblochova, harpsichord/Alena Hellerova & Eva Kolkova, sopranos/Moravian Philharmonic Orch. /Vit Micka & Petr Vronsky – Navona Records NV5872 (Distr. by Naxos), 67:20 ****:
Many composers over the years have come to the United States to learn and hone their compositional craft and to absorb some of the vibrant and cutting edge music that has always defined American music making. Sergio Cervetti is one such composer and one with whom – until now – I was not familiar. 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. Much of his earlier work involves electronics and culls from a very diverse range of styles, including the folk music and lore of his native Uruguay.
This very interesting collection features four works from the more recent period of 1975-2010 and makes one want to find more. For example, the opening Leyenda for soprano and orchestra is a setting of an epic hero native poem “Tabare” by the Uruguayan poet Juan Zorrilla de San Martin. Using a very large orchestra, Cervetti concocts a lush exotic and dramatic sound that evokes Debussy, Strauss and Matrinu, to my mind, and the net effect is quite lovely; sublime and evocative in places, dramatic and imposing in others. Soprano Alena Hellerova does a splendid job.
“Chacona Para El Martirio de Athualpa” is actually the second movement of the composer’s Concerto for Harpsichord and Eleven Instruments. In its fairly direct blend of folk elements and contemporary traditions, the work evokes something of the life and feel of the Incan warrior king Athualpa and his death at the hands of Conquistadors. It is not, however, in any direct sense a program piece. In fact, this work has a definite ethno-centric feel to it in the instrumentation and rhythms but also has a bit of propulsive nervous energy to it that reminded me a bit of the work of Silvestre Revueltas. It ends rather suddenly and mysteriously with some frenetic harpsichord noodling and pulsations in the strings. An interesting work, to be sure, but it did not leave as strong an impression as Leyenda.
Nazca for string orchestra is a very intriguing work that draws similarly on some minimalist tendencies as well as some indigenous sounding rhythm patterns. Cervetti explains that the five movements each recall an aspect of his childhood in Uruguay and, in particular, his interest in the remnants of the Nazca tribal culture and their odd, mysterious paintings and drawings. The five movements are “The Monkey’s Plain, The Spider, The Hummingbird, Dreams of the Extraterrestrial” and “The Hands, Hymn.” Each of these evocative small-scale impressions is quite interesting. Even without knowing what the imagery or derivation of the works may be, they sound picturesque and lend themselves to speculation. I particularly enjoyed “El Colibri” (The Hummingbird) and the subsequent “Dreams of the Extraterrestrial”. I found this to be a very fine work which ought to be accessible to many different levels of string ensemble and I imagine that listeners would find it evocative and compelling. Kudos to Navona for once again providing an interactive enhanced CD which enables you to look at the scores, get more background info and in both English and Spanish.
Madrigal III is another unique and very entertaining work. Scored for two sopranos and chamber ensemble, the text is by the 15th century Aztec spiritualist and warrior Nezahualcoyoti. Best known for his “Flower Songs”, the poetry of Nezahualcoyoti is said to be vividly descriptive and sensual. Cervetti’s Madrigal III evokes the same beauty and mystery in a most captivating way. There is, once again, a certain indigenous or aboriginal feel to the sound and, as in Leyenda, there is a mystery and intrigue to the work that succeeds with or without the text in this somewhat impressionistic work.
All performing forces on this disc are splendid. The Moravian Philharmonic, under the shared direction of Vit Micka (in Leyenda and Chaconne) and Petr Vronsky (Nazca and Madrigal) are often used as the recording ensemble of choice by Navona and one can hear why. Similarly, harpsichordist Monika Knoblochova and sopranos Alena Hellerova and Eva Kolkova are very fine singers who perform this works with this requisite sensuality and style. The recording was funded in part by the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Composers Forum. Congratulations and thanks to them as well for introducing us to such interesting music!
Sympathetic “Mid Century” readings of Brahms Symphonies, by Steinberg