IBARRA Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-6. Páramo Pétreo. Piano Sonata No. 0 • Fred Sturm (pn) • STURM UND DRANG 6. Available from fredsturm.net (70:32)
Federico Ibarra is a prolific Mexican composer, with a large body of symphonic, operatic, and chamber music to his credit. American pianist Fred Sturm has emerged as an ardent proponent of Ibarra’s still increasing collection of music for solo piano, including this recording of all seven of theRead more extant piano sonatas. An eighth sonata (it will be called Sonata No. 7; Sonata No. 0 is a resurrected student work) has also been written, and is dedicated, with gratitude, to Sturm. Ibarra, who was born in 1946, is a thoroughly modern composer, forging a distinctive sound that follows no particular trend. His Mexican heritage is reflected in a kind of exciting visceral energy, without much discernable folkloric influence, in the manner of Carlos Chavez. There is certainly something of a cosmopolitan flavor to Ibarra’s writing as well. His sense of color and naturally flowing rhythm recalls the French impressionists; elsewhere he employs a kind of jazzy syncopation that conjures the inky world of film noir. Above all else, his music is overtly dramatic, with a strong narrative pulse present at all times. He conveys this sense with extreme dynamic contrasts, an expressive melodic component, and a masterful, if individualistic grasp of texture. One gets the sense that Ibarra completely exploits the technical capabilities of the instrument, with all 88 keys in use, and then some!
Fred Sturm, with his specialized interest in Latin piano music, and with his particular knowledge of piano mechanics, would seem to be the ideal interpreter of this work. Indeed, he plays the music of Ibarra as if he were writing it on the spot. It is rare to hear a musician so inhabited by the material. Sturm has played the piano his entire life, but did not have a typical conservatory training. Nevertheless, the technique he displays here can be astonishing, especially in his ability to draw out all of the inner voicings in the music, even as they are layered across a huge dynamic range (well captured by the recording). For the listener, this music can be challenging and even strange, but as an example of extraordinary artistry at the service of bold, iconoclastic music, this is a powerful release. I think that any adventuresome piano music lover would find this to be a uniquely compelling recording.