This second CD by guitarist Alberto Rodriguez brings forth a musical production rich in compositional styles. Its diversity is astonishing; yet it all befits the sign of what the guitarist himself, rather enigmatically, terms “densities.” Unlike his first release, here all compositions are his own. These recordings attest to the coming of age of a magnificent guitarist and composer.
In contemporary painting, figurative depiction gave way to chromatic and then expressive abstraction. In literature the storyline was often overwhelmed by the lexical profusion of the so-called “novel of language.” In music throughout the last century, harmonic exploration would take the privileged place formerly accorded almighty melody. It was all about the creation of textures, musical fabrics, where intricate workings are everything, or almost everything. Schönberg, Berg, Webern were all composers in search of the grail of absolute music. So was Glenn Gould’s youthful enthusiasm for Bach towards the mid 20th century, as music persisted in the quest to regain its purity, understood as the abstraction of sound, far from the melodic aggressiveness of Romanticism or the descriptive simplicity of neo-Romantic or programmatic music.
This new CD by guitarist and composer Alberto Rodriguez Ortiz bears witness to last century’s musical trajectory, but now as a creative tension between harmonic exploration and that final destination, so easy on the universal ear, which is melody.
In the opening piece for two guitars, entitled Densidades, this idea of texture and musical fabric attains a special manifestation. It is a work of complex architecture, inverted symmetries, and harmonic interplays, where the full sound achieved by the guitar shows just what a well-suited instrument it is when it comes to constructing a musical edifice. Here the guitar establishes its sovereignty over that pure sound which is the empire of the piano, particularly when one sets out to erect a structure like that of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata.
The opening arpeggios of the twin guitars foreshadow the complexity of the piece, alerting us that our attention is required. The whistled melody, later progressively abridged, miniaturized, and eventually dissolved into musical corpuscles, before our amazement, holds that measure of flattery to the ear which is never fully delivered in contemporary music. The duo by Alberto Rodriguez Ortiz with Portuguese guitarist Pedro Rodrigues constitutes a four-handed display of virtuosity.
The second piece, Soliloquio, contains the sort of half-heard melody, anticipated here, lost there, so distinctive of musical impressionism and minimalism. It is strictly speaking a “meditation for guitar,” in which musical statements are perceived as fleeting and wandering; yet always under the signature of melody. Nonetheless, its musical depth never becomes solipsistic or self-absorbed. This music reaches into the soul just as it ends up seducing the ear. The handsome and robust sound of Alberto Rodriguez in the guitar is accomplished here throughout the full extent of its impressive register.
Never distancing himself from an evocative and programmatic music, Rodriguez Ortiz offers us, with declamation by David Ortiz, his musical rendition of some classic Rhymes by Spanish Romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. This great poetry—which we all discovered in our youth along with our first artistic ambitions—is centered on three pieces—Volverán-preludio, Ideas sin palabras, and Las silentes—through which the subtle spoken voice of the declamador introduces the various musical propositions. With the guitar, the world of Bécquer’s swallows has never flown so vividly. The musical meditation is rich in dramatic quality, and the dynamics and rhythm achieve just the plasticity of a description. In Ideas sin palabras, melodic experiments speak to us of faraway places, of a meditative guitar, in search of that place where ideas almost crystallize into words. There is calmness as well as turmoil, reiterations where themes come back to haunt us as if spellbound. Las Silentes at times evokes the sighs of flamenco, the forcible hammering of the chords, in short, the Iberian lamento. And when the notes are sustained, or when we listen to their dissonance, we are left clinging to a particular realization: they are notes suspended in silence, suggesting the space that engulfs them.
The sixth piece is Alberto Rodriguez’s tribute to Mozart. Here the idea of texture, of fabric, is complemented by the idea of palimpsest, the layered plea of a text written over a previous text, or the painting applied over another painting; in a word, we are placed face to face with a respectful graffiti. As it always should be, the juxtaposed textures dramatize Mozart’s lightness and beauty, while accentuating the melodic offerings. We move from the serial structure of the second variation to the technique of musical collage in the fourth. The third variation as a musical reflection on the work of Mozart corresponds to the fifth as an essay about musical space, the unavowed ambition of all minimalism. In the end, these virtuoso passages are a dazzling tour de force for both guitarists Alberto Rodriguez and his guest, Nicholas Goluses.
Alberto’s Sonata no. 2, performed by Pedro Rodrigues, takes us back to the path of harmonic exploration. The full sound achieved by the guitar suggests a quest for musical textures and foundations. In Intimo-allegro the pursuit of motifs, those which are almost de rigueur, speak to us of recurrent, obsessive themes, in the manner of Glass’ minimalism. In Canción nocturna this minimalism launches notes to their peak, only to leave them wandering in space, as if they longed to end their journey under the haven of melody; they are as though notes in search of configuration, clusters, groupings that no sooner start to settle into musical lumps when they swiftly dissipate. Such lyricism demonstrates that its effectiveness is not necessarily dependent on explicit melody. In Allegro violento we revisit a sort of musical colonnade, where the recurring themes, like an incipient antiphony, fulfill that very (baroque, yet non-decorative) density which is sought and attained in this CD.
In Invocando a Yúcahu, a work belonging to the composer’s early youth, the music turns descriptive and programmatic. In Ritual de la cojoba reiteration becomes invocation and, at once, a call, a battle cry, a prayer. Llanto de las taínas is sooner a lamento that captivates and haunts us with its melody; it is an invocation placed by way of the guitar in that ever elusive sanctum we call collective memory. Guasábara is like this euphonic word itself, a sequence of sounds unraveling into the depths of History.
Homenaje a Héctor Campos Parsi is the musical portrait par excellence, a suggestive evocation that speaks to us of the mastery of this great Puerto Rican composer, manifested here as the ambition of attaining to the classical proportions of beauty, in the craft of this guitarist and composer, the young maestro Alberto Rodriguez Ortiz. Bravo!
Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá
October 7, 2006, in Guaynabo