Sunday, 19 August 2012

Venezuela 3: Songs of the Llanos

Concluding my journey through Venezuelan classical music reveals (as ever) a great range of styles as we enter the most recent period of its history.

We still composers writing nationalist music and others writing classic guitar music - or, as in the case of Rodrigo Riera (1923–1999), doing both. His music draws on the popular forms of his homeland and is immediately attractive, as you can hear from his Preludio CriolloNostalgiaCanción CaroreñaSerenata Ingenua and (from over the border) Choro.

Modesta Bor (1926-1998), who studied with Khachaturian (among others), strikes a more European tone in her lovely choral piece Aqui te Amo ('Here I love you'), though the melody has aspects of popular music to it. The harmony is so warm and imaginative that the piece will strike a warm response with many listeners. Fans of John Rutter will feel at home. Those sensitive, impressionist-tinged harmonies can also be heard to good effect in some of Modesta's songs, such as Canción de cuna ('Lullaby') and Guitarra. A tantalising glimpse into the composer's large-scale works can be judged from (this extract from) the symphonic poem Genocidio (oh, to hear more!!), which suggests she could summon up a Respighi-like range of dramatic colour from the orchestra, and from her Overture for orchestra (a score that could have been taken from a film). A colourful Christmas carol arrangement, Nino Lindo, shows another string to her bow.

Aldemaro Romero (1928-2007) was a very versatile man, writing lots of popular music, creating a new form - part-joropo/part-Bossa Nova - called Onda Nueva ('New Wave'), performing jazz, as well as conducting and composing classical music, such as the lively Fuga con Pajarillo ('Fugue with Bird') from his Suite for Strings and the seductive, easy-on-the-ear Double-Bass Concerto.

Alberto Grau (1937- ), founder of the well-known Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, has (as you might expect) written a lot of choral music. One of his most widely-performed pieces is Kasar Mie La Gaji ('The earth is tired') from 1990 - an environmentally-concerned work that youth choirs the world over have taken to. His pieces, which are highly approachable, do seem to be ideally suited for choral competitions. Other examples you might like to try include Como TuConfitemini Domino and, from 2007, the exuberant Magnificat-Gloria. On a larger scale, the ballet for mixed choir, narrator and chamber orchestra, La Doncella ('The Maid'), from 1978 is full of catchy popular-style tunes, dance rhythms and bright orchestral colours.

Beatriz Bilbao (1951-) studied with Modesta Bor and has conducted with Alberto Grau, with whom she shares an interest in writing choral music. Her Trilogia Aborigen ('Aboriginal Trilogy') suggests that she shares their soundworld too, though one piece isn't enough to go on. I would like to hear some of her electronic music.

Eduardo Marturet (1953-), a conductor as well as a composer, has a fine sense of creating a sense of the epic - as evinced by his splendid Canto Llano from 1976 (a piece that can be performed by many combinations of voices or instruments), a piece that conjures up the wide spaces of the llanos very effectively.

With Adina Izarra (1959-) we find a composer writing in an approachable contemporary style that seems to draw on several strands - as you will here if you listen to these three very different pieces: Two Medieval Miniatures for clarinet and piano, Silencios for guitar and El amolador ('The grinder') for solo flute. Much the same can (and will) be said for Diana Arismendi (1962-), c.f. Solar (1992) for percussion and Epigramas (2004) for voice, guitar and percussion.

This skim through Venezuelan contemporary music ends with composer and conductor Cristian Grases (1973-), a pupil of Alberto Grau. Again, choral music is to the fore. His Amanecer provides a luminous, traditional example while Oblivion shows - at times - the influence of the international avant-garde (albeit put to crowd-pleasing effect).  

As yet I've not found the level of avant-garde involvement that was seen in Chile and Mexico. Presumably there are other younger voices emerging. If there are I shall try and seek them out. Till then, this third survey of Venezuelan classical music again reveals the country's rich continuing heritage.

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