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Robert Xavier Rodriguez - Chamber Works

Release Date: 09/08/2009 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1136   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Benjamin BrittenWilliam ByrdTraditionalJohn Tavener,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Colorado String QuartetVoices of ChangeClavier Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RODRIGUEZ Meta 4. 1 Trios: III, “Sor(tri)lège”; 2 II; 2 I 3 Colorado Str Qrt; 1 The Clavier Tr; 2 Voices of Change 3 ALBANY TROY 1136 (59:07)
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Robert Xavier Rodriguez (b. 1946) has been extremely successful, above all in writing for opera (including works in dual versions English and Spanish). One could, of course, speak about his Hispanic roots, but that matter seems far less significant or interesting than another kinship the composer apparently feels, namely to the last fin de siècle . I suspect he would probably be living in the aesthetic hothouse of Paris c. 1905, if he had his druthers.

Like many composers of his generation, Rodriguez began his creative life steeped in the gestures of modernism and expressionism, and the two early works on this program, Trio I of 1971 and Trio II of 1970, present this “historical” face. The dates aren’t a mistake. Rodriguez was studying with Nadia Boulanger, and she asked him to stop the composition of his first trio momentarily to write a brief piece for the same forces, partly to focus his ideas and energy. It worked, according to the composer. Both pieces are cut from similar cloth, though the First is expansive and intense, sometimes racing desperately, while ending in a still point of delicate repetitions. Berg seems a referent. The Second is more concentrated, and to my ear seems very much from the world of the Schoenberg op. 11 piano pieces, the “birth” of expressionism.

But Rodriguez underwent a sea-change in the 1980s, and began to write explicitly neo-Romantic music, by which he’s now most often identified. The first trio does suggest a deeply romantic temperament, despite the chromatic language, so it’s not a total shock to hear what follows. Nevertheless, the music is very different. The Third Trio, subtitled “Sor(tri)lège” (a pun on the French word for “sorcerer” and the number three), dates from 2007, and so is a statement of the composer’s current interests and obsessions. I think it could easily be taken for a recently discovered piece by a contemporary of Ravel. This isn’t a condemnation, because Rodriguez writes tunes that are good enough to be not just hummable, but memorable (and believe me, there is a difference, as the former does not inevitably mandate the latter).

But the piece which for me is the stunner is the 1994 string quartet Meta 4 (the composer obviously loves puns!). This piece fascinates me on several levels. First, its melodic material is florid, ornamented, and always singing. Second, the opening movement, which takes this melody from a cyclic unison section into increasingly rich counterpoint, is great structural drama. Third, the succeeding three movements are each a variation on that theme, giving the entire piece great cohesion. And finally, the music uses more repetition to enhance textures than might be the case for an earlier post-Impressionist composer; in other words, there is a fluid blend of post-minimalist with neo-Romantic technique.

Any listener who likes new American Romanticism will want to buy this disc. For me, the string quartet is worth the price of admission, no matter what your taste. The performances are of high quality, though there are a few moments in the quartet, especially in the unison writing, where intonation seems a little dubious. Fortunately, this seems only to enhance the romantic “straining” behind the notes. The Trio I recording is a historic live performance of 1979, and while there’s more hiss, it’s otherwise not too distracting.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Meta 4 by Robert Xavier Rodriguez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Colorado String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994 
Trio I by Robert Xavier Rodriguez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Voices of Change
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1971 
Trio III “Sor(tri)lčge” by Robert Xavier Rodriguez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Clavier Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2007 
Trio II by Robert Xavier Rodriguez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Clavier Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1970 

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