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Brouwer: String Quartet, String Trio / Havana String Quartet

Brouwer / Havana String Quartet
Release Date: 08/09/2011 
Label:  Zoho Music   Catalog #: 201108   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Leo Brouwer
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BROUWER String Quartets: No. 1, “ To the Memory of Béla Bartók”; No. 2, “Know the Matter and the Word Will Follow”; No. 3; No. 4, “Know the Matter and the Word Will Follow II.” String Trio Havana Str Qrt ZOHO 880956110820 (74:13)

Havana-born (1939) Leo Brouwer is the great-nephew of Cuban composer and pianist Read more Ernesto Lecuona. Brouwer began playing guitar at age 13, encouraged by his father, who was himself an amateur guitarist. His first real teacher, Isaac Nicola, was a pupil of Emilo Pujol (1886–1980), who in turn had been a pupil of Francisco Tárrega (1852–1909). Brouwer continued his musical education in composition at Juilliard with, among others, Vincent Persichetti and Stefan Wolpe. He also studied classical guitar at Hartt College in Hartford, Connecticut.

Over the next decades, Brouwer became one of the most influential classical guitar composers, writing for the instrument in a solo capacity, in chamber music settings, and in concerted works, which include 11 concertos for guitar and orchestra. His compositional efforts, however, have not been limited to guitar. He has written a number of chamber and choral works, a ballet, pieces for wind band, orchestral works, and more than 60 film scores through his involvement in the cinema industry in Cuba where he was director of the music department of the Cinema Institute (1961) and musical adviser to the National Radio and TV Company of Havana, as well as professor of composition at the music conservatory.

Brouwer is well represented on disc, but mainly by his works for guitar. The First Quartet, written in 1961, is subtitled “In Memory of Béla Bartók.” It won him first prize in the 1963 National Composition Competition in Cuba. Formally, the work follows a conventional four-movement layout. Bartókian rhythms and clashing dissonant harmonies are clearly in evidence throughout the first movement, marked Enérgico, but somehow Brouwer manages to transform Bartók’s Hungarian paprika into a Latin salsa—the dance, not the dip. Listening to the second movement, Allegretto, one is struck by how easily the music trades its babushka for a bandana in this off-kilter scherzo. The Lento is bound to strike a familiar chord for those who are familiar with Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta , especially the third movement of that work. And the finale, in true Bartókian style, is a stomping peasant dance.

The Second Quartet (1968) bears the subtitle “Rem Tene Verba Sequentur” (Know the Matter and the Word Will Follow). In it, Brouwer explores John Cage’s world of the aleatoric—music left to chance. It’s in a single movement, every performance of which is different—and I quote from the booklet notes—“as the quartet musicians are asked, and dared, to make musical chance choices. They play together, they might stop, and they might even argue. A percussion instrument is used to mark all of the interventions which form the work. This is an idea taken from the use of percussive instruments in Japanese Kabuki theater.”

As I listened to it, I began thinking about those interactive DVD mystery movies that allow you to program a number of alternate endings, and I wondered if something similar could be done with a piece like this. After all, you might find the version that’s fixed on the disc not to your liking, but if you had the ability to scramble things around—which is basically what the players do themselves each time they play it—perhaps you’d come up with a version that really appealed. You could keep trying over and over again until you hit upon just the right combination. It’s kind of like the old philosophical proposition that postulates that given an infinite number of monkeys banging away on an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite period of time, at some infinitude, one of them will produce King Lear . To the extent that Brouwer’s Second Quartet exists at all, it exists only in one of an infinite number of variations on this disc, for it has never existed in quite this form before and it never will again.

The Third Quartet (1991–97) is in four movements, each bearing a descriptive title. The score is dedicated to the Havana String Quartet, whose members gave its debut performance in Córdoba, Spain, in 1998. The work is based on another chamber work, Canciones Remotas (Distant Songs), which in turn is based on a poem by the relatively unknown Cuban artist Dagoberto Jaquinet. The four movements of the piece are shaped within a framework of folkloric segments where the string instruments also interpret ritual Afro-Cuban lyricism, dance, and percussive sounds.

The Fourth Quartet bears the same subtitle as the Second Quartet, except with “II” appended to it. It was written in 2007, but unlike its namesake, the piece is not, strictly speaking, aleatoric. It does, however, call upon the second violin in particular to engage in a good deal of improvisation. Brouwer, who oversaw these performances and wrote the program notes, credits violinist Eugenio Valdés Weiss for his “spontaneity and flair” in his improvising. Through the use of improvisation and the composer’s suggestions of “certain fragments found in music’s universal repertoire,” the listener is presented with a single movement that imitates the flavor of popular music in Cuba.

Until I listened to the piece, I wasn’t quite sure what Brouwer meant by “certain fragments found in music’s universal repertoire.” It didn’t take long to figure it out. Embedded in the riot of sound at around 2:45 is a passage that sounds like it was lifted from a Paganini caprice, followed by an improvisation over one of Bach’s unaccompanied violin sonatas superimposed over the cello playing what almost sounds like the arpeggio passage in Dvo?ák’s Cello Concerto. Then there emerges at 3:31 the opening strains from the second movement of Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins, which proceeds unaccompanied for several bars. The superimpositions tend to have a somewhat Ivesian effect, but the stark-naked Bach concerto reference is like an absurdist moment in a surrealist movie. It’s as if an angel with halo and wings has wandered onto the set of a pornographic production. For a moment, I thought something had happened to the recording. Perhaps it had been accidentally overlaid by another performance. But no, the orgiastic bumping and grinding soon returns to drive the chaste cherub away. Jazz improvisations and one of the players shouting out time follow.

The entire single-movement work is highly segmented, with each episode being brought to an abrupt halt by a slap on a gourd-like percussion instrument. It’s hard to know whether to take the Fourth Quartet seriously or not. It may be just one big musical joke. Yamak mentions in the above interview that the Second Quartet often gets audiences to laughing, but for me it was this Fourth Quartet that struck me funny with its theater of the absurd antics. Even if some of it is a bit raucous and rambunctious, it’s fun seeing if you can pick up on and identify all of Brouwer’s “universal music fragments.” On that level, the piece becomes one of those picture games where you’re challenged to find the hidden objects.

The String Trio is a student work, written in 1959 while Brouwer was still at Juilliard on scholarship studying with Vincent Persichetti. Although it’s an early piece, Brouwer’s compositional skill and talent were recognized when it won second prize in 1961 at the first Chamber Music Composition Competition “Amadeo Roldán” in Havana. Many of the work’s compositional elements would be absorbed into Brouwer’s personal musical vocabulary and find their way into later works, especially in terms of the rhythms and sonorities drawn from traditional popular Cuban music.

The ZOHO recording was taped at intervals between July and November 2008 in the Concert Hall of the Jardinito Theater in Cabra, Córdoba, and in the Gran Teatro de Córdoba.

Brouwer, whose love child you might say the Havana String Quartet is, has said of the ensemble, “For 30 years, the Havana String Quartet has been performing and celebrating the musical culture of the Americas and Spain with a remarkable repertoire. I am very proud to have initiated the creation of such a significant chamber group. The maturity of the HSQ as interpreters is evident in this recording of my complete quartets, and in their many diverse and important awards and reviews … I congratulate them! The professional quality and enthusiasm of this ensemble has only one source: an infinite love of music. Listen!”

I second that. This is a wonderful recording by an ensemble of superb players, one that I can strongly recommend.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

String Quartet No. 1 by Leo Brouwer
Written: 1961 
Date of Recording: 07/2008-11/2008 
Venue:  Gran Teatro, Cordoba, Spain 
Length: 18 Minutes 46 Secs. 
String Quartet No. 2 ("Rem Tene Verba Sequentur") by Leo Brouwer
Period: Modern 
Written: 1968 
Date of Recording: 07/2008-11/2008 
Venue:  Gran Teatro, Cordoba, Spain 
Length: 6 Minutes 19 Secs. 
String Trio by Leo Brouwer
Written: 1959 
Date of Recording: 07/2008-11/2008 
Venue:  Gran Teatro, Cordoba, Spain 
Length: 14 Minutes 8 Secs. 
String Quartet No. 4 ("Rem Tene Verba Sequentur II") by Leo Brouwer
Period: Modern 
Date of Recording: 07/2008-11/2008 
Venue:  Gran Teatro, Cordoba, Spain 
Length: 13 Minutes 12 Secs. 
String Quartet No. 3 by Leo Brouwer
Written: 1991-1997 
Date of Recording: 07/2008-11/2008 
Venue:  Gran Teatro, Cordoba, Spain 
Length: 20 Minutes 59 Secs. 

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