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Francisco Guerrero

Orchestral Music (1980-1996)

Coma Berenices (1996)
for orchestra
Ariadna (1984)
for 10 violins, 5 violas and 5 cellos
Sahara (1991)
for orchestra
Oleada (1993)
for string orchestra
Antar Atman (1980)
for orchestra

Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia; Jose Ramon Encinar, conductor

col legno WWE 20044 [54:52, recorded 2000 in La Coruna] distributed in UK by Discovery Records]

Francisco Guerrero (1951-1997) was an influential Andalusian composer and teacher. He developed an interest in investigating the nature of sound, and in the early 70s became involved with electro-acoustics. He linked music with its scientific dimensions, and incorporated 'fractals' in his compositional processes. His Zayin, a major work, completed in the year of his premature death, in eight movements for string trio, string quartet and solo violin, was a blinding revelation to me, and I counted it one of my CDs of the year 2000.

Here is a sonically challenging CD of music which is complex, abrasive, extremely dissonant and often very loud; there is beauty to be found, but of a particular kind. Most readers will simply want to know if the journey of exploration is one to join or avoid. Francisco Guerrero conceived a personal technique which is well described by Stefano Russomanno in analagous terms of trees and their branches, whirlpools of rivers and fissures of rocks; heady, elemental concepts.It should not alienate listeners prepared to tackle modernistic music who can take, say, Xenakis and Ferneyhough in their strides. They are all demanding pieces, best listened to one at a time; at 55 mins TT you will not feel short-changed..

I chose to listen first to two works for strings. My initial reaction to Ariadna (1980-1996)for 20 strings, the shortest of the five works collected, was to find it one of the most exciting pieces of music I have encountered since being overwhelmed by Zayin, recorded by the Arditti String Quartet. Ariadna reminded me initially of Xenakis and early Penderecki; admirers of those need not hesitate.

Oleada, for a string orchestra of 50 real parts, is based on 'the fractal movement of a wave' in micro-polyphony too complex to perceive, superficially like Ligeti's experiments, the parts 'sliding from one voice to another as in a whirlwind', every detail deduced mathematically and notated with precision. Guerrero saw the form almost as a live organism.

The nine minute Amntar Atman (1980), the earliest included, has the most dense textures and is the hardest nut to crack. Sahara (1991) has a logic that unfolds clearly, starting with unison strings, ending with maximum contrast between double basses and piccolos, displaying Guerrero's mastery of the weight and 'thicknesses' of sound. The last and longest of the works recorded is Guerrero's final masterpiece for orchestra, Coma Berenices (1996). Less rebarbative than Antar Atman, it epitomises all his orchestral techniques and procedures. Percussion is important, with two solo passages of tremedous power, but there are long sections of quiet, evocative music. Perhaps col legno's ordering is right, and you should begin with that one?

The Galician orchestra seems thoroughly at home in these demanding scores and the whole thing is, for me, a riveting and enhancing experience. I am delighted that with Zayin and this orchestral CD, Francisco Guerrero is now properly accessible posthumously on CD , even though the opportunities to hear his music live are bound to remain infrequent.

See also review in Music Web of Zayin (Almaviva DS-0127), also distributed in the UK by Discovery Records.


© Peter Grahame Woolf