New South American Discoveries
These eight composers represent six Latin American nations, yet there are ties that draw their disparate voices together. The most conspicuous shared trait is a rhythmic insistence that may be driving or grounding or both. It’s front and centre in Responsorio (2000) by the Ecuadorian composer Diego Luzuriaga, where the percussion evokes ‘a fast human heartbeat’ as part of a ceremonial colloquy. In Victor Agudelo’s vividly coloured, delightfully ominous tone-poem El sombrerón (2009), the repeating rhythms signal the arrival on horseback of the traditional folk figure who frightens drunkards and gamblers – the Colombian equivalent of César Franck’s tone poem Le chasseur maudit, perhaps. Diego Vega, also from Colombia, looks further back to pre-Hispanic times in Música muisca (2009), a compact, ritualistic dance rhapsody.
In these works, one might say that the composers confront the past in order to find their place in the present. Sebastián Errázuriz, from Chile, takes on the pitch-black subject of Pinochet’s ‘Caravana de la Muerte’ (Death Caravan) and the murder of one of that nation’s great musical educators in La Caravana (2003). If the music can’t really capture the horrific subject matter, it’s still effective as an evocation of creepy, cancerous inexorability. Sebastián Vergara, another Chilean, takes a more abstract approach in Mecánica (2005). With orchestral strings divided into 20 parts rather than the usual five, and an intricately interlocked system of motifs that move together like a vast set of gears, Vergara conjures a strangely beautiful, chugging, gun-metal-grey musical machine.
The two Peruvian works, Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann’s Wayra (2011) and Antonio Gervasoni’s Icarus (2003), have an attractive cinematic quality that provides colour and atmosphere, but they lack a cogent narrative structure. Una música escondida (2004), a three-movement nocturne for piano and strings by the Bolivian composer Agustín Fernández, is much more satisfying in its unpredictability and dramatic concision.
Even if these works are not equally compelling, the performances by Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra are uniformly excellent. All in all, this disc is a tantalising sampler of contemporary Latin American orchestral music.