The history of Cuban music exhibits a one-sided vision. The overwhelming international recognition of the powerful multi-forms of Cuban popular music has almost totally overshadowed the existence of Cuban art music. While millions of human beings dance, sing and applaud danzones, sones, montunos, boleros, congas, cha-cha-chá’s, rumbas, guaguancós, etc., few know about the presence of operas, symphonies, concertos, chamber music and other expressions of a more abstract, refined and complex musical tapestry. It is a fact that countries with a powerful, varied and intense folklore, as is the case of Cuba, Brazil or Spain, for example, are known to the world as producers of innumerable, attractive and dance-like works of a popular nature; countries with a limited, simplistic and repetitive folklore are known as originators of immense number of art music compositions a type of music creativity known as “classical”. That is the case of Germany, France, or Italy.
The present recording of Contradanzas by Manuel Saumell (1817-1870), Danzas of Ignacio Cervantes (1847-1905) and newer piano works by Yalil Guerra (b. 1973), all three composers born in Cuba, offer the listener a different aspect of Cuban music. Saumell and Cervantes created their compositions in the XIX century; Guerra confronts the inquirer with sounds composed in the Twenty First.
While the Contradanzas of Saumell and the Danzas of Cervantes show how these two paradigmatic XIX century Cuban composers transformed the popular music of the period into elegant, salon-like works, the music of Yalil Guerra demonstrates how a composer gathers ebullient rhythms, present in today’s Cuban popular music, and turns them into piano works of notable artistic sophistication. The compositions of Saumell and Cervantes were written using the harmonic language of almost a century before. Their originality is only evident in the use of melorhythms of a novel kind derived from Cuban XIX century folklore and popular music. The compositions of Guerra, much more varied, aggressive, exciting and elaborated, confront the auditor with a richer rhythmic palette. Interesting is the fact that Guerra’s music is expressed in a more advanced harmonic language than the one present in contemporary Cuban popular music. Also, the use of thematic development, counterpoint and unexpected harmonic twists, makes Guerra’s works more intriguing and surprising for the listener.
Cuban pianist Elizabeth Rebozo, now residing in Canada, plays the works in an examplary manner. Her sense of the rhythmic imagery wich runs throughout the compositions underlines her sensitive delivery of the lyrical passages.
Hopefully, this recording will discover for the public at large, not familiar with Cuban “classical” music, new vistas of a national identity which is, at the same time, historical and musical, artistic and social, placid and spirited, but always fresh and most valuable.
Aurelio de la Vega
Northridge, October 2009