Modern Spanish Music by Camerata Gala

cover IBS-112020ALDERETE: Ballanda con Arcos. JORDÁN: Alzheimer.* GARCÍA AGUILERA: Abisal. R. RODRÍGUEZ: Espiral. CÁRDENAS: Influence. DELGADO: No Questions / *Auxi Belmonte, sop; Camerata Gala; Alejandro Muñoz, cond / IBS Classical 112020

Over time, certain CD labels have become favorites of mine because they issue fascinating recordings of modern music to offset the standard repertoire out there. Brilliant Classics, which balances the two, is one, but Piano Classics and IBS Classical are high on my radar because they generally specialize in offbeat repertoire.

Here is an album of such music played by the now 14-year-old orchestra Camerata Gala (originally known as Camerata Capricho Español) under its youthful music director Alejandro Muñoz. The music is really up-to-the-minute, with the opener, Ballanda con Arcos or Dancing with Bows by Igmar Alderete having been finished just last year. It’s an excellent opener: mostly tonal although using open harmonies and rhythmic despite the use of irregular metric divisions of the bars, drawing from both Spanish and Cuban folk music, with a slow middle section featuring short solos. The music becomes more complex and bitonal in the second half. This isn’t a very “deep” piece, but it’s accessible and attractive, the kind of work that would make a perfect concert opener.

Next up is one of the strangest pieces on the album, Rubén Jordán’s Alzheimer. Any piece of music connected to a widespread ailment that afflicts close to half of the elderly population, and does not spare such mentally active people as Maureen Forrester, Jon Vickers or Ronald Reagan, is bound to be somewhat strange by nature. This one is based on a poem of the same title by Manuel García. This, too, has a tonal and even a somewhat Romantic feel about it, combining somewhat the elements of film music and minimalism, but again open harmonies are used to create a feeling of edginess. Part of the poem is as follows:

Round the dark corners of the mind,
down the lightless pit of memory,
through the empty streets of History,
there walks a man.

He knows not what time is,
neither can he tell.

He knows not about the serin outside,
nor about the gleaming poppies
in the green, nor about
the orange-scented air
of a rainy spring.

The soprano soloist, Auxi Belmonte, has a solid but very bright voice, the extreme upper register tending towards an over-bright sound without becoming too shrill. The music at this point vacillates between the major and minor, often switching keys at a moment’s notice. One thing I liked about this score was its construction: Jordán manages to pull his themes and variants together without resorting to too much minimalist repetition, and even when parts of the music are repeated the harmony changes; these sections almost appear as interludes between more creative and interesting music. There are even some virtuosic passages for the soprano in which she sings fast staccato in her upper range. Surprisingly, it ends on an unresolved chord.

Abisal by Hisae YanaseAbisal, or Deep Sea, was written by Juan de Dios García Aguilera as a tribute to the late Japanese artist Hisae Yanase Sudo who explored the links between East and West.  This is very atmospheric and almost elusive music which, as the liner notes explain, “unfolds through a sequence of musical atmospheres that suggest not only luminous but also unique gestures, harmonies, textures, and shades of timbre. On the whole, Abisal emphasizes light as opposed to darkness, as well as it stresses the primacy of the whole over the part.” It is a truly extraordinary piece, scored for only 15 strings.

Next up is the title track, Espiral by Raquel Rodriguez. We are back here to tonality and a touch of minimalism, imbued with very Romantic melodic lines which she describes as “a window to the sounds and images of the Universe.” The interest in the music lies not so much in the top line as in the somewhat surging rhythm of the lower strings, constantly nudging the music forward and shifting tonality as the long violin section lines continue going on. At 2:38 we switch from long lines to swirling figures as the violas and cellos dance around beneath them. Then the music slows down, the swirling stops, and we hear very tonal passages in a slow 3 with the rhythm divided asymmetrically; then soft violin tremolos. Indeed, this constant shifting and morphing of the music is what gives it interest, but for me the music went on too long and said much less than I expected. Mónica Cardéna’s Influence refers to the influence of Spanish, Cuban and African music in South American folk rhythms, but to my ears the piece was not particularly interesting or well written except for the rhythmic bass-cello duet in the middle.

We end our concert with José Javier Delgado, a piece built, as the liner notes describe, “upon hardness and alternation,” exploring “communicative possibilities as well as emptiness and the gap between electronic screens and the world.” This, too, is a primarily tonal piece, and in fact sounds more like movie music than classical music. (No, I am not one of those reviewers who likes film music most of the time.)

In tot, then, a mixed bag. I really enjoyed Ballanda con Arcos, Alzheimer and Abisal and kind-of liked Espiral, but the last two pieces held little interest or appeal for me.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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