Notes and Editorial Reviews
SIERRA Symphony No. 4. Fandangos. Carnaval • Giancarlo Guerrero, cond; Nashville SO • NAXOS 8.559738 (55:35)
A number of composers writing today are immensely capable orchestrators, very much at home with symphonic forces, with a myriad of unique instrumental colors at their fingertips. Such composers are so plentiful that we must look beyond the dazzling surfaces to discern an individual voice. Sierra supplies it through his Caribbean roots: a determining Latin influence that drives his music.
To quote from a previous Fanfare review of mine (of his Mass, “Pro Pace”): “Roberto Sierra (b. 1953) was born in Puerto Rico, studied in Europe, and is now based in the United States….His Hispanic background and, in particular, a Caribbean influence inform his music, which has become stylistically more accessible as he gets older. Bongos, conga drums, and Cuban timbales are regular features of his orchestration, and he often makes use of Latin dance rhythms….” The three works on this new release exemplify these traits. The program comprises the short orchestral dance piece Fandangos (2000), the five-movement suite Carnaval (2007), and the Symphony No. 4 (2008–09).
Fandangos is an extended and freely imaginative take on the famous keyboard fandango by Antonio Soler (with other musical references in addition), built on the repetition of a descending minor-key chord sequence. The sensuality and burgeoning excitement of the fandango is well conveyed and, as indicated above, the orchestral writing is virtuosic. An excellent version of this work remains available on an Albany disc, where Ian Hobson conducts the Sinfonia da Camera. That CD is worth getting for its coupling, the Variations on a Souvenir for piano and orchestra, but I think Guerrero’s performance of Fandangos supersedes Hobson’s both in sound quality and in the Nashville orchestra’s tightness of ensemble.
The Symphony is a serious work, representing the composer’s latest response to traditional, four-movement symphonic form. His First Symphony also has four movements but is more restrained––even austere––in its formal procedures; his Second is a single-movement symphonic passacaglia. In the Fourth, the musical argument is both episodic and highly dramatic, resembling the score for an edge-of-your-seat adventure movie––notably in the first movement with its alternating onslaughts of energy and brief moments of repose. A quirky, colorfully scored Scherzo is followed by a movement marked Tiempo de bolero (bearing no resemblance to Ravel; more flowing than repetitive), and a Finale permeated with dance claves (Muy rápido y ritmico). This music is exotic in the fullest sense: the Latin influence being an integral part of it, not merely superimposed or present as mere color. When you think of the 21st century equivalent of the bright and breezy Haydn finale, what better than a salsa?
Carnaval is a suite of five pieces depicting mythical creatures. Each has a distinctive profile: “Gargoyles” grotesque and disruptive (possibly growing out of Ravel’s Scarbo); the closing “Phoenix” exploring a mysteriously Middle-Eastern theme, while the central movement (“Unicorns”) is suitably stately and blossoms into a glittering climax. For once the overused term “awesome” may be literally appropriate here.
The Naxos recording of Sierra’s Mass, “Pro Pace,” landed on Fanfare’s Want Lists for two consecutive years (2009 and 2010). Not mine: While I found it a major work I had severe problems with the sound balance. Let me make up for that now by declaring that this new release has no such drawbacks. Naxos produces some of their best results in Nashville, and here everyone is on top form. Guerrero galvanizes the orchestra to play with all the requisite style and brilliance, and the music itself is both substantial and fun. I fervently hope we will see more Sierra from these forces. At the very least, let us have his first three symphonies: they fit perfectly onto a single CD, and the sole existing recording is compromised by poor sound.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Roberto Sierra’s music is fun. However self-conscious his Spanishisms may be (he hails from Puerto Rico), he has forged a personal style at once original, and approachable. Fandangos borrows music by Boccherini, Soler, and Scarlatti and uses it to create a colorful contemporary take on the Fandango of old. If you know the pieces to which Sierra refers, you will enjoy the music all the more, but you certainly don’t need to know anything at all to get the full experience.
Symphony No. 4 has four brief movements lasting a bit less than 25 minutes. There are fewer overtly Spanish references here, though the use of color and rhythm have a Latin flair. The third movement is marked “Tempo de bolero”, but the nifty thing about Sierra’s music is his use of avant-garde playing techniques and textures in handling mostly traditionally tonal material. In this respect he resembles Leonardo Balada, but his style is more direct, less obviously modernist in its gestural language.
Carnaval is a delightful suite illustrating five mythological creatures: Gargoyles, Sphinxes, Unicorns, Dragons, and The Phoenix. The juxtaposition of the last two may look like an item from a Chinese restaurant menu, but the actual music makes reference to Schumann’s Carnaval, as well as Papillons. It’s all done with good taste and a light touch, and as with the other two works the performances by the Nashville Symphony under Giancarlo Guerrero sound very confident.
The engineering captures Sierra’s brilliant scoring while maintaining good balances and textural clarity, but the notes, by Sierra himself, prove that composers should let professionals do this sort of thing. They are full of big words that tell us little that is useful. Recommended for the music alone.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Fandangos by Roberto Sierra
Nashville Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Sinfonia no 4 by Roberto Sierra
Nashville Symphony Orchestra
Carnaval by Roberto Sierra
Nashville Symphony Orchestra
Sinfonia No. 4: I. Moderamente rapido
Sinfonia No. 4: II. Rapido
Sinfonia No. 4: III. Tiempo de bolero
Sinfonia No. 4: IV. Muy rapido y ritmico
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Classical Latino January 20, 2014
By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA) See All My Reviews
"Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra writes in an original post-romantic style that reminds me of Villa-Lobos and Chavez -- but only a little. "Fandangos" which opens the album may be inspired by the music of Spain, but it's no pastiche. Sierra incorporates characteristic melodic turns into his music, giving it spice. The feel of the dance is there, making this a rousing curtain-raiser. The Sinfonia No. 4 also has some Spanish elements in it. the third movement "Tiempo de Bolero" for example, emulates the rhythms of that dance. And the final movement uses gestures from Latino dance orchestra -- the piano playing rhythmic punctuations in octaves, and extensive use of Latin percussion, such as bongos, congas, and claves. "Carnaval" is a set of five characteristic pieces, each one representing a fantastical monster. Each movement is a brilliant miniature, painting a vivid portrait of its subject through Sierra's skillful orchestrations."
A weighty symphony from Nashville January 9, 2014
By Dean Frey See All My Reviews
"Roberto Sierra's Sinfonia no. 4 is part of the great Germanic symphonic tradition, as the composer himself states in his liner notes for this new Naxos CD. But even more so, I think, it follows the lead of great Latin American composers like Carlos Chavez, who wrote six symphonies, and Villa-Lobos, who wrote eleven, while never sounding like Brahms or Mahler. Alberto Ginastera comes to mind as well, though he wrote only Symphonic Movements and Estudios Sinfonicos, and not named Symphonies. Like these masters, Sierra's music is more rhapsodic; it evolves organically, rather than dialectically. This Symphony remains serious and vital music, and it's presented in a thoughtful manner by Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony. The rhythmic variety of Sierra's music serves a structural purpose, and is not only there to provide coloristic, "Latin" effects. It seems sometimes Bachian, in the manner of Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras. Sierra took 18th Century music as the starting-off point for his Fandangos, making reference to Antonio Soler, Domenico Scarlatti and Luigi Boccherini, all of whom worked in Spain. This is lively music designed to show off the virtuoso capabilities of an orchestra. The Nashville musicians come through with flying colours, as they so often have in their Naxos recordings in the past decade. Carnaval makes reference to Schumann's 'characteristic' piano pieces, but these miniatures of distilled character also bring to mind short, pointed, contrasting pieces from Latin America, such as the Prole do Bebe by Villa-Lobos, Camargo Guarnieri's Ponteios, or the suites and dances of Ernesto Lecuona. Giancarlo Guerreo is having an outstanding time as Music Director of the Nashville Symphony, building it into one of America's finest orchestras, in live performance as well as on disc. This disc is another example of how important Nashville has become in classical as well as so many other kinds of music."