Parish Music: International Mix from Latin America and Premiere of US Work

24/10/2011

Samuel Barber, Javier Alvarez, Silvestre Revueltas, David Stock, Miguel del Aguila: Santiago Quartet, Beckford Parish Church, Worcestershire. 22.10.11(RJ)

An English country church seems an unlikely setting for a performance of contemporary Latin American music – let alone the UK premiere of a new work from the USA.

However, the well established Parish Music series has a reputation for being adventurous, and this recital is the latest in an honourable tradition.

Suzanne Evans (viola) and Jonathan Hennessy-Brown (cello) developed an interest in Latin American music when living in Yucatan, Mexico where they were founder members of the Cuarteto Genesis. On their return to Britain they were keen to share their passion for this kind of music more widely, and the Santiago Quartet has become their vehicle for their quest.

Few people in Europe would be able to name a Latin-American composer apart from Villa-Lobos and Piazzolla. Yet the music scene in that region of the world is a vibrant affair – if the Mexican composer Javier Alvarez is anything to go by. In Metro Chabacano he paints a sound picture of Mexico City’s busiest subway station – a pulsating piece in which different rhythms and melodic ideas come to the surface and then disappear, rather as passengers and trains do. In 1991 it accompanied a kinetic installation by the sculptor Marcos Liminez at this very station. The music played by buskers in London tube stations is small beer in comparison with Alvarez!

Música de Feria by Silvestre Revueltos, a pioneer of modern Mexican music who died in 1940, provided another outpouring of frenetic energy. There were frequent changes of tempo and mood interrupted by a quieter interlude – a siesta perhaps? – before the bustle and jollity returned with a vengeance.

This keen sense of rhythm is also evident in the music of the Uruguayan born composer Miguel del Aguila. His Presto II is an intriguing work in which the metre is constantly changing and the instruments are used for a variety of effects including pizzicato and percussion. Not an easy work to play, I suspect, but the musicians led by Matthew Elston displayed complete mastery over its polyrhythmic complexities.

Two works from north of the Rio Grande offered a sedate contrast to the Latin American fare, one of which was receiving its British premiere. Sueños de Sefarad may have a Spanish title, but is actually an arrangement of traditional Sephardic melodies by the American composer David Stock. The music ranged from plaintive songs to boisterous dances, with harmonics creating a haunting, mesmerising backdrop to the music. – and deserves to become better known on this side of the Atlantic.

The recital had begun with a more familiar work – Samuel Barber’s String Quartet Op 11. The quartet, of course, features his renowned Adagio which towers over the first and final movements and offered a chance to appraise the Santiago Quartet’s strengths. I have to admit that this was an impressive performance played with sensitivity and refinement by this talented foursome.

Roger Jones

Latin Perspective, the Santiago Quartet’s debut album was released in September 2011 (Cubafilin Records). www.santiagoquartet.com

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