Archive > July 2008

New Millennium Guitar: Review & Interview

» 02 July 2008 » In Interviews » Comments Off on New Millennium Guitar: Review & Interview

A Review of Ricardo Cobo’s Naxos Release
“Latin American Guitar Music” CD

When Michael Lawrence, maker of the new documentary Aaron Shearer: A Life with the Guitar, explained to me that Mr. Shearer told him he left out two things in his film, one of those things was Ricardo Cobo. Mr. Shearer said that Cobo was possibly his best student.

I would think that most of us have heard of Ricardo Cobo but as far as I’m concerned there are many guitarists that are better known that are not his equal. What can I say but he is one of my favorite guitarists of all time.

I have never heard a recording that so mated all components, the player/material, guitar, space and engineer/producer than Latin American Guitar Music performed by Cobo on Naxos.

It is so well paced and naturally flowing that I have have no reservation saying that it is in my top five CDs of all time.

Cobo is so naturally intertwined with the music that it is his. His arrangements of Piazzolla’s “La muerte del angel” and “Primavera portena” are the best I’ve heard. His playing of them is better than I have ever heard from an expressive point of view. The arrangements are powerful and full, complete and idiomatic.

I always look for some mistake or mishandling in everyone but Cobo. In “La muerte del angel” there is one thing that could be a tempo “problem” into a new section but it quickly gets absorbed into the fabric of rightness. My only, “sort of,” complaint.

In performing Latin American music you can be suave, schmaltzy and a highly sentimental, you can be bawdy, sexy and muscular, not necessarily in any order or combination.

There is something spiritual about Cobo’s performance of this music and it surpasses the above qualities into the sublime. He has lived with it so long that he has merged with it and there is no great quality that stands out except perfection. Technique becomes something superfluous as it too is absorbed into the fabric of rightness.

When Cobo performs contemporary Latin American guitar music he is the most profoundly in his element. Tracks 12 through 14 are “Elegia por muerte de un tanguero” by Maximo Diego Pujol, a wonderful composer/performer. As well track 6, “Stella australis,” is Pujol’s.

As well track 6, “Stella australis,” is Pujol’s. Track 7 “Milonga del viento” by Jorge Morel is so beautiful that it is tearful and it takes a lot for a guy like me to say this. Also track 9, “Little Rhapsody” and track 10, “Danza in E minor,” Morel’s are so fine as compositions and Cobo knows how to bring their qualities out.

Morel has also contributed an arrangement of Horacio Salgan’s “Don Agustin Bardi” performed so sweetly by Cobo. Cobo’s handling of the lyrical breathes in vocal style.

All will recognize Cobo’s arrangement of “El Chocolo” by Angel Villoldo. Both this cut and the above one would really work well coupled for a nice example of the dance aspect of Latin American music.

Track 8, Milonga Oriental, by Abel Carlevaro (1952-2001) is a beautiful composition and is the first recording I’ve heard. As well performed by Cobo as only he can. Can I say swashbuckly? There is a certain verve that Cobo has that reminds me of Rudolf Valentino playing a pirate.

As well I am very happy to listen to Marco Pereira’s “Marta.” He is also a composer/performer of equal skill as Pujol and should be well known. Cobo looks at a beautiful piece like this as Chopin would with the characteristic improvisory flow of time.

Track 2, “Se ela preguntar” and 3 “Promessa,” by Dilermando Reis (1916-1977) like Pereira’s are playful with the tempo. Cobo’s feeling is uncanny, for what some of us call schmaltz but be careful and don’t be cynical. It is the same on track 11, Leo Brouwer’s “Un dia de Noviembre” and it seems like he’s reached a profound moment with the music like when you’ve seen something too beautiful.

Yeah Dude, like I said, we’re always looking for mistakes of technique or expression. You can easily leave that expectation at the door of this CD.

There are no highlights on this CD that isn’t personal taste as in my over appreciation for living composers that are younger than me and high romance in beautiful music.

The separation of the voices on the guitar is astonishing and this may be what I like most about Cobo’s playing. He really flushes the voices out of a person’s composition and leaves his imprint! As I said earlier, the poet Cobo absorbs the virtuoso Cobo. It’s a good thing.

I asked Ricardo a few questions starting with the genesis of this particular CD:

The germ for the Latin CD came from a concert program of Latin American “standards” -arrangements and guitar originals. I played the program in a couple Festivals in Germany and a big chamber fest in Colorado. It was a huge hit-I was honestly surprised.

“The concept is nothing new, but presenting this type of music at a very high level was- I think labels are really starting to capitalize in Latin markets with Latino performers right now. Ironically, I’m playing music that comes very naturally to me and I’m learning to arrange and play this stuff with the same level of excellence and soul as the best concert music that I grew up studying in school. I’ve arranged and learned dozens of well-known tunes for concert programs last year. NAXOS liked the music but wanted me to mix and match with more “serious” music from living composers. There is only so much you can squeeze into a CD. So the music is now divided into three volumes.”

“Originally, I was going to go with my old label, but they wanted very traditional stuff: all- Coste, all-Sor, all-Albeniz, all-Bach (will the guitar world ever get a clue?) I just can’t fathom spending another week of my life recording Sor and Albeniz. I turned it down and went somewhere else.”

“I received a small grant from a Patron in Colombia who was determined to capture the soul of Latin tunes on the guitar. They asked me to record “music that speaks from the soul and intimate personal experience.” When NAXOS heard this demo they asked me to record it for them on the spot. I flew to Toronto in the winter. Norbert and I sat down for three days of takes and an extra day for overlap, in case we wanted to change the program around. The music just rolled out night after night. It was freezing cold outside and snowing incessantly while I was there. Quartz heater next to my chair, two microphones and a thermos of coffee. That’s how it went down. We tried several different program orders. They felt Piazzolla should book-end the program for this CD.”

Also, I was interested in the guitar played on this recording:
“The guitar is a 1998 Cedar Millennium. Not ringed like a Smallman, but latticed through the lower half of the soundboard with a diamond-shaped design made of cedar braces. Humphreys are not made from pre-cut molds, so the width of the sides, soundboard slope, fingerboard angle and rollover are all different. This guitar is not particularly even in its sound or color. However, its full of idiosyncracies, sonorities and details that give it its magical qualities. There is a learning curve involved in ‘memorizing’ the scale print if you’re used to an even-response guitar.”

The space of recording is well know as the Naxos guitar series room:
“St. John Chrysostom in Newmarket. Its a contemporary fan-shaped space. Brick, glass, metal and lots of wood. 40 ft-High ceilings, healthy space and very positive energy.”

“Norbert Kraft, who engineered the project, had asked me to simply play through full movements and avoid the step-by-step editing that goes along with very clinical and accurate recordings. We wanted to breathe and stretch the innate elasticity in a lot of this music rather than paste a note-perfect CD. I hope the risk pays off. We aslo opted to play in a large space without any reverb or postproduction. What you hear is what went down on that day.”

“The mics are Neumann UM-87 with Klaus pre’s. I don’t know about the cables or the console- Norb has those custom-made somewhere in Holland.”

Since I saw you at GFA 2001, what has been happening in your career?
“In the days right before the 9-11 Attack, I was very uneasy about Fall tour. My manager had cancelled several venues for lack of contracts and organizational blunders all around. Since that day, life has changed in many ways. I value my time and whom I spend it with. I’ve had serious travel problems since 9-11- visa delays and denials, searches, cancelled flights, and a lot of running around between immigration offices around the west Coast. I’ve been stranded outside the U.S. for weeks at a time. Finally I just made a decision to travel only when absolutely necessary. I hand-pick everything I do these days and I try to keep my traveling to a minimum.”

“After GFA ’01, I disconnected from the usual concert politik. The rewards didn’t really make up for the grueling wear and tear of concert life, and playing for guitar Festivals got old- not my idea of a good time. I’d rather stay home and ride 50 miles through Red Rock Canyon on my bike.”

“Nowadays I train intensely with my partner. We’re building a core life, and focusing on the things that bring us closer to a high quality of life. We both teach; I record quite often now, and I’ve started to arrange and compose every day. As a composer, I know you understand the nature of that need. I still practice 40 hours a week, learning and studying new music daily. My playing gets better every season.”

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Guitarra Magazine

» 02 July 2008 » In Interviews » Comments Off on Guitarra Magazine

In this interview Ricardo Cobo shares his views about the guitar, whre it is, where is going to and also gives us a brief insight about this future projects.

GUITARRA MAGAZINE: Coming from Colombia, a culture so different from that of the U.S., how did you become interested in the classical guitar?

RICARDO COBO: Before I played guitar, I was already immersed in the piano by the time I was six years old. My mother, a terrific pianist, loved music and instilled in me a fascination for music as far back as I can remember. Colombia’s “culture” was quite different when I was growing up. It was more deeply rooted in European and Iberian traditions than American culture. Hence, the only existing music schools or conservatories were patterned after traditional European-French models complete with solfège, theory, ensemble, and lots of one-to-one lessons. In addition to my studies in the Conservatory, I was also attending a bilingual high school, which had no real music program.

In Colombia however, the environment was quite tropical. “Serious” music was constantly competing and mixing with native and regional music, which really dominated the airwaves. Cali, after all, was called “the capital of salsa”. The wealth of regional music included cumbia, vallenato, musica del llano, traditional trio, tango viejo, trova cubana, and a fascinating diversity of native instrumental and vocal songbooks. The guitar was a central player in this melting pot, but it had never become a solo instrument per se.

GM: Whom did you study with before moving to the U.S.?

RC: My first guitar teacher was Alvaro Ramirez Alvarez, a guitarist/arranger and composer who still lives in Cali. He taught me the ropes of basic flamenco rhythm and picado when I was about 7. I studied theory, arranging, and ensemble with Ciceron Marmolejo, a very colorful musician and arranger who was well known in the Cali “ambiente bohemio”.

Simultaneously, I enrolled in the City music Conservatory and worked with Luis Alfonso Castillo, a talented guitarist who spent many years studying in Spain, Germany and Holland. I was deeply involved with guitar methods and traditional repertory during this time. I also worked privately and in many classes with the late Abel Carlevaro and Miguel Angel Guirollet. All in all, this ten-year stretch was a very rich and unique period of lessons for me. I remember it fondly.

GM: What is the future of classical music in Colombia? Does the political struggle of the country directly affect the development of the arts?

RC:Many people ask the same question about classical music in America. I think the future is uncertain for “classical” music in general, but that is a discussion for another time. Colombia’s political and social struggle has affected and dramatically altered the direction and long-term survival of classical arts. Colombia has a central Ministry of Culture, which distributes moneys for arts organizations. Traditionally, orchestras, conservatories and museums are supported and run by the state, which places individuals from the governing parties in power; often, individuals who have limited or no musical training in the arts or arts management.

In addition, Colombia’s very bloody war on terrorism has taxed the country to such a degree that any arts-sponsored entity has undoubtedly felt a serious loss in funding across the board. Our current president continues to raise taxes to fight the guerillas, and the citizenry has felt these tough demands. As you know, Colombia battles for survival in a continuous state of emergency, and the arts are the first casualties of war. It has taken miraculous self-sacrifice and personal courage for individuals who love the arts to stay alive and work in Colombia today. On the other hand, there are more college students today (such as yourself) who study applied music and pursue postgraduate study than at any other time in history. This surge in interest and awareness can only be good for the future of music in Colombia.

GM: Is there anything in particular that we can do in order to promote the growth of classical guitar, not only in South America but in a global fashion?

RC: I think the guitar is in a uniquely positive place at the beginning of this millennium. The music industry is having serious growing pains keeping up with the wild frontier of the digital era. I think guitar has to move out of its “classical” box in order for it to participate more fully in the mainstream. I realize this idea may not jibe with many traditional classical players, but I think it’s time people realize they have to embrace the wild variety of music from around the planet and present it to the public with the same conviction and level of excellence as the brightest stars in the classical world have done all along. There are far too many “career guitarists” today trying to squeeze into a shrinking box of vanishing venues. There are dozens of chops-driven, cookie-cutter young bloods who play for each other in the same festivals and competitions and criticize each other to oblivion. This insular and self-perpetuating environment may exist in academia but has no meaning to the public at large. While this multiplicity of talent is exciting and fun to witness, I believe true musical creativity and adaptability far outside of this box will rule the day.

GM: Why did you choose to move to the US in particular?

RC: I came to the United States over twenty years ago to go to college; in particular, to study with Aaron Shearer and later with Bruce Holzman. I felt the U.S. offered the most advanced and comprehensive training for a musician, not just in classical music. As for my teachers in the U.S., I was looking for a proven pedagogue, not necessarily a player whom I wanted to emulate. Often, the greatest teachers are not well-known players themselves but possess the rich experience of working with many uniquely talented musicians.

GM: How was the experience of studying with two of the world’s leading pedagogues, maestros Aaron Shearer and Bruce Holzman?

RC: My experience with these two marvelous and different teachers was life-changing, profoundly enlightening, and rewarding well into my professional career. I was fortunate to meet Shearer at a time when he was completely devoted to his teaching and writing. He was easily the most generous, articulate, pragmatic, and consistently challenging teacher I had met. His deep knowledge of the guitar and how it worked is daunting. His method and the bar he set were unyielding and exhaustive. He was a true guru or “Yoda” in his field. Regardless of the criticism you may hear, this man was the genuine article, and passionate about his work to boot.

When I worked with Holzman, he too was completely devoted to his students and present in countless ways. I believe I was the first “Shearer school” player to cross lines to study with Holzman. I can tell you I had a blast making music during my lessons. He was the most meticulous, fastidious, and analytical coach I had ever encountered. I grew enormously as musician and performer at FSU. I am deeply grateful to Bruce in every regard.

GM: Please tell us about your experience living in New York City in contrast with life in other US cities. Is there a larger demand for the classical guitar there?

RC: I moved to NYC in 1990 after competing intensely for years and finishing doctoral work at FSU. I had lived in the lazy heat of the Deep South for 5 healthy and productive years. Tallahassee was a wonderful and peaceful place to train, practice and study. I always felt that if I had a choice, I would like to live in NY because of the demand and level of classical music in general (I was young and naive, after all). It would be difficult not to express excitement and fascination with a city which had become synonymous with the best and the brightest in the arts. That is no longer the case, of course, and NYC for all of its greatness is also one of the most difficult, complex, expensive, cynical, unhealthy and neurotic cities in the U.S. I really don’t think there is more demand for classical guitar there currently. If anything, there is less opportunity and infinitely more competition at every level of music. NYC has always had a love-hate dynamic with everyone who lives and works there.

I lived in a brownstone in Hell’s Kitchen for nearly ten years. I recorded for different labels in the city, toured non-stop, arranged and recorded jingles and commercial spots, performed locally, taught privately, and made a very lucrative and successful career on my own terms. But it came at a price–personal, physical and financial. I wanted to disconnect and take a breather to pursue other interests and regain my quality of life. I moved to Las Vegas shortly before 2000, and I wouldn’t move back for all the money in Wall Street.

GM: Are you presently teaching through the University of Nevada, Las Vegas? How are your students coming along?

RC: I have one graduate student enrolled at UNLV this year. To be honest, institutional teaching has been less than rewarding both financially and personally for me. In order to build a department realistically anywhere and devote heart and mind to teaching, one would have to reduce performing and recording substantially as well as deal with a tsunami of university politics and red tape for surprisingly little money. This, I’m not ready to do. I have far too many interests beyond the guitar to justify working in this environment full-time.

I much prefer teaching privately and on my own terms. I have many out-of-town students who commute and several professional players who work with me regularly. My private students in Las Vegas are a joy and have been with me for several years now.

GM: Please tell us about the new recordings that you did recently. Will they be released anytime soon?

RC: I’m currently recording for commercial projects and a variety of high-end instrumental mixes. As for my guitar recordings, NAXOS, with whom I’ve worked in the past (Brouwer-Guitar Music Vol.1), has released my new CD of Latin American standards for solo guitar this fall (CD# 8.5573.29) . I’ve also just recorded another CD of guitar and flute music with Alexandra Hawley for release next year, and I’ll record another CD of traditional South American classics in January for a summer release. The latter will be available at:

GM: What are your future plans and projects?

RC: Recording takes an enormous amount of time, energy, detailed labor and constant reassessment. I’m dedicating a lot of time to recording and producing in ’04. I’m working on an interesting mix of traditional classical chamber music CDs of Paganini, Beethoven and Bocherini and also arranging and producing a program for a mixed Middle Eastern CD where I play oud, guitar and requinto. Later in the year I’ll record another Latin CD of Colombian and Venezuelan solo music. In a slightly different focus, we are also organizing the first Las Vegas classical guitar and fitness camp for next fall. In the meantime, I’d like to climb Telescope Peak(11,100ft), ride the 67-mile salt-flats track in Death Valley, and ride the 27-mile Arches trail in Moab as well as ride 100 mi. in next year’s “Tour de Tucson”. Other than that, good wine, good friends and lots of practicing and hiking.  

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Summary For The Busy Executive: Cobo’s “Walking on the Water”

» 02 July 2008 » In Reviews » Comments Off on Summary For The Busy Executive: Cobo’s “Walking on the Water”

Stunning. Music by virtuosos for virtuosos.

During the Sixties, my sister saved up her pennies to buy a serious guitar, so I had the opportunity to hear a beginning student close up. Recently, she’s gone back to playing after a good number of years and after findingout her guitar is now worth a small car. Anyway, I love the sound of theacoustic guitar, due in part to the folk-music craze of my youth, in part tothe artistry of Julian Bream and the Romeros.

The guitar – at least if the player picks, rather than strums – always struck me as temperamental an instrument as the french horn, even under thehands of a decent executant. The little inadvertent scoops and slides made by fingers riding the strings too closely on the freeboard as they move from note to note or the sharp little thud of a note picked but not sounded or the accidental buzz of a note due to God knows what are just the usual pitfalls. It’s an instrument that loves to point out its owner’s deficiencies. Furthermore, many classical players seem to lose rhythm in harder passages, as well as clarity. Seldom do you find a player able to consistently deliver not only notes, but music.

Cobo plays so well, he tends to overshadow the music, and the music is strong in itself, as well as well-written for the guitar. Each composer on the program is a virtuoso guitar player in his own right, so one experiences the concert as one might a display piece by Liszt — where the performer’s dazzling technique becomes an integral part of one’s enjoyment. If there’s a technically-better guitarist than Cobo, I don’t know whom. Furthermore, with perhaps the exception of Sainz de la Maza’s Homenaje a Toulouse-Lautrec, a lovely fin-de-siècle waltz, all of these works pose considerable interpretive challenges. The opening to Dyens’s Villa-Lobos homage is a toccata featuring AK47-rapid repeated notes. Dyens designed the opening not only to impress, but to get the listener’s jaw to drop, and Cobo unquestionably achieves the effect. The second movement emphasizes colors and “orchestration,” as if the guitar were a small Brazilian combo doing a set in a club.

The guitar sets up calls-and-responses with itself, and Cobo creates the illusion of different “groups” handling each one. The third movement, an aria of the type of the famous one in Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5. The finale is a blazing samba, with all sorts of cross-rhythms and various textures. Cobo plays everything preternaturally cleanly and generates great rhythmic excitement throughout. Pujol’s multi-movement Elegía for Piazzola is, paradoxically, the most Villa-Lobos-like guitar music on the CD, particularly the “Melancolía” second movement, a slow tune accompanied by a South-American syncopation. Pereira’s Pieces Brésiliennes evoke the energy of Brazilian jazz. The effect is that of hearing hard bop in Rio. Again, Cobo produces a huge range of colors on his instrument – nails, no nails, various half stops on the frets – and he uses them to illuminate the structure of the pieces.

Dyens’s neatly-named L. B. Story quotes material from Cuban guitarist-composer Leo Brouwer and from Leonard Bernstein (the opening Jets song in West Side Story). Just describing it sounds like shreds and patches, but Dyens writes tight. The piece is also unusual in that it doesn’t resort to a Spanish or South American idiom. It’s a little Modernist gem.
John Major (not the Tory former prime minister) dedicates Burning Circle to Keith Jarrett and “R. Colavito.” I assume that’s Rocky Colavito, power-hitter wannabe who played for the Cleveland Indians in the Fifties and Sixties and later (briefly) for the Yankees. On the other hand, I have no idea why anyone would want to devote a piece to Rocky, a flashy but not particularly solid player. At any rate, Major’s score poses the greatest interpretive challenge on the disc, since it’s the most diffuse. It has the meanders (and occasionally dithers) like a Keith Jarrett solo. However, it’s also the most contrapuntally stunning on the disc. If you think about it, most guitar pieces fall into the category of melody line plus accompaniment, although the accompaniment often implies more than it actually states. A composer gets a guitar to do counterpoint only through extreme brilliance and a profound understanding of the instrument: Bach and Dowland come to mind. Major sets up three independent ideas and gets them going simultaneously.. The guitar writing is ingenious and difficult as a bear. Again, Cobo plays as if the challenges didn’t exist. How he gets through the piece without twisting his fingers up, I don’t know. One hears music, rather than difficulty.

Larry Cooperman spearheads the New Millenium movement of music written for guitar. I’m not quite clear on the movement’s aims, but from it has come an expansion of technique and musical idiom, without denying the guitar’s inner nature. All the composers on the CD play guitar as well, and more than passably. All of them have written works that seem to call for the Jimi Hendrix of the classical guitar. One can easily imagine them getting ideas from their time playing. Cooperman’s Walking on the Water comes from Kosinski’s Being There (I haven’t read the book, but I saw the movie). The piece strikes me as a modern equivalent of a Dowland fantasia.. It forces the player through a gantlet of techniques, including harmonics and faux harmonics, various ingenious strum patterns, and so on. Cobo even produces different colors from his instrument simultaneously – perhaps a trick on the ear. Its difficulties must be fiendish, because Cobo makes more noise on the frets than in any other cut – which puts him down a notch to a merely outstanding virtuoso rather than someone who, guitaristically speaking, indeed walks on water. If you can’t tell by now, I consider this one of most the outstanding guitar discs I’ve ever heard.

Highly recommended.
Steve Schwartz

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Fanfare Magazine: Brouwer Concerti 3 & 4

» 02 July 2008 » In Reviews » Comments Off on Fanfare Magazine: Brouwer Concerti 3 & 4

BROUWER: Concertos for Guitar and Orchestra: No. 3 (“Concerto Elegiaco”); No. 4 (Concerto de Toronto”). Ricardo Cobo, guitar: Richard Kapp conducting the Pro Musica Kiev. ESSAY CD 1040 [DDD];56:29. Produced by Adam Abeshouse. (Distributed by Koch International)

This release demonstrates great courage on the parts of the guitarist and the conductor. Both concertos have been previously recorded-No. 3 by its dedicatee, Julian Bream (Currently available on BMG 09026-61605) [DDD] Nos. 3 and 4 by L. de Angelis (Quadrivium SCA 020). In both cases the composer conducts. I have been unable to locate a copy of the Quadrivium release. In Bream’s performance of No. 3, Brouwer acquits himself as a competent and generally authoritative podium maestro at the helm of a pickup band dubbed the RCA Victor Chamber Orchestra, and the whole enterprise has been nicely recorded by the veteran producer James Burnett (with engineering by Bob Auger).

Both Kapp and his producer, Adam Abeshouse, and Brouwer/Burnett, achieve acceptable balance between guitar and orchestra. Burnett does more cardioid pinpointing of various orchestral instruments but the soloist is thin, treble heavy, and distant. Abeshouse opts for a more blended orchestral sound in keeping with Kapp’s general approach to recording, but teases out the solo line more effectively, capturing more of the guitars subtle colors along the way. In neither case is any detail fully lost to the ear. Burnett’s recording is marginally brighter and airier (though less timbrally rich): Abeshouse’s is marginally more homogenized and occasionally betrays a slight standing wave in the upper parts of the bass register-a small price to pay for its generally richer texture.

The crucial differences have to do with the rendering of the solo part and with the overall organization of the orchestration by the two conductors. The state of Bream’s playing on his 1987 recording is less than ideal. Although Bream realizes the effective beauties of the 1986 “Concierto Elegíaco”, rapid passages are often sloppy, blurred and rhythmically less than precise (e.g., the ascending passages commencing at track 7, 4:24 on the Bream disk; track 1. 4:20 on Cobo’s). Ricardo Cobo sails through those and similar moments with great aplomb and knife edged precision, and is particularly compelling in his realization of the quasi improvisatory-sounding music of the brief second movement. Bream is playing notes, Cobo makes a music unfold before the ear. As conductor, Brouwer is episodic, occasionally bringing isolated moments to great heights, but failing to project overall architecture of any given moment. The biggest difference between Brouwer and Kapp is the realization of the orchestra’s motoric ostinato passages. Under Brouwer they are limp and degenerate into tendentiousness, whereas Kapp imbues them (and those of the “Corcerto de Toronto”) with fine rhythmic springiness that does much to enliven the texture.

The 1987 “Concerto de Toronto” was dedicated to John Williams. Whereas the “Concerto elegacio” is introspective, scoring its emotional points through deft manipulations of harmony, the “Concerto de Toronto” is brashly extroverted, making greater technical demands on the soloist, and deploying the orchestra in a more complex and variegated manner. Its core is found in the thirteen minute theme and variations movement. The Coplanesque subject is rife with melodic and harmonic possibilities, and Brouwer’s imaginative exploitation of it constitutes a veritable compositional tour de force. The finale, after a linking cadenza, is a bracing romp full of perilous passages for the soloist: tricky metrical changes for the conductor, and numerous moments for the orchestra to shine. Like the “Concerto Elegíaco”, the “Concerto de Toronto” employs Franckian cyclical structure. The reprise of the variations theme is particularly telling-and made all the more so when the listener realizes that the whole of the finale is itself yet another huge variation on that same Coplanesque theme.

Both concertos are jewels of the twentieth-century guitar concerto literature, Brouwer is typically unrelenting in his flow of inventions and resourceful in his handling of all musical elements. His fluency is compelling, but often hides the fact that he is, all expressive nuances and surface glitter aside, an extremely logical and structurally sound composer. Cobo and Kapp give both sides of his personality, and what emerges is a recording that will not be bettered for some time to come. The recording cited from the Bream BMG series also includes readings of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” and Lennox Berkeley’s guitar Concerto. op 88-factors that undoubtedly will be of import to some collectors. For those in quest of Brouwer alone and presented in the best possible light, this Essay offering cannot be too highly recommend.

I hope Cobo/Kapp/Pro Musica Kiev will have a go at the remaining Brouwer concertos

-William Zagorsky

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Soundboard Magazine

» 02 July 2008 » In Reviews » Comments Off on Soundboard Magazine

Just for the Record.  Guitar Foundation of America.  Winter 1997.

John Schneider

Recording:  Excellent balance and bloom.

Performance:  Dazzling

Comments – Ricardo Cobo plays these brilliant but grueling scores with the insouciant flair of a master, a title which he has clearly earned in just a few decades of life.  These two stunning additions to the concerto repertoire were written for Bream and Williams respectively, and beautifully explore both the techniques and aesthetics of those well-known personalities.  Cobo makes them his own, however, and even out-Breams Bream, whose premiere recording of the piece (RCA7718-RC1988) is woefully misbalanced, in spite of the composer’s superb conducting and valiant soloing on the part of the dedicatee.  This ESSAY recording is the Toronto Concerto’s premiere recording, and will doubtless win many friends for the piece, whose gorgeous 13 -minute theme and variation middle movement shows Brouwer at his lyrical.

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Fanfare Magazine

» 02 July 2008 » In Reviews » Comments Off on Fanfare Magazine

TALES FOR GUITAR.  Ricardo Cobo, guitar.  ESS.A.Y  CD 1034 [DDD]  51:19,

Produced by Adam Abeshouse.  ( Distributed by Allegro.)

PIAZZOLLA: La Muerte del Angel;  Primavera Porteña: BROUWER: El Decameron Negro; BROTONS:  Two Suggestions Op. 23;  DYENS: Libra Sonatina;  KOSHKIN:Usher Waltz., Op. 29 .

When much of Piazzolla’s music is performed on the classical guitar it both loses and gains something in transition.  La Muerte del Angel,  when played by Piazzolla’s own quintet (Ermitage  ERM 124), is redolent with highly appealing ethnic grunge.  One hears five very accomplished and serious musicians who seem hell-bent on appearing to be just the opposite, as if to say simultaneously, “Ha! And you thought this was all just mere entertainment!” and “Ha! And you thought this was just all mere fine art!”

The net gain from a good classical guitar performance comes in the form of harmonic and structural elucidation.  Piazzolla’s music, for all its surface appeal, is very well and rigorously composed.  The loss comes when the guitarist tries to clean  Piazzolla   up a bit, put him in a three-piece suit, and make him a paragon of musical propriety suitable for a “Live from Lincoln Center” telecast.That does not happen here.

Alfred Heller has intimated to me that the most sympathetic way to approach Villa-Lobos’s piano literature (and, by extension, Latin American music in general) is from the point of view of a cocktail pianist–that is to say unpretentiously and with an alert, improvisatory attitude.  The player venerates it by striving to get the notes right, never losing sight of the fact that the music must communicate–directly and naturally.

All of this music is programmatic–some of it overtly  (Piazzolla’s La Muerte  del Angel  ;  Brouwer’s El Decameron Negro;  Koshkin’s Usher Waltz), some of it subtly (Piazzolla’s Primavera Porteña;  Broton’s Two Suggestions;  Dyens’s Libra Sonatina ).  The stylistic range of this music is wide–from the accessibly tuneful Piazzolla and Brouwer, through the more harmonically audacious Two Suggestions   of the young, Barcelona-born Salvador Brotons;  the exotic-cum-jazz-rock-and-funk  Libra Sonatina  of Roland Dyens; to the quietly manic and occasionally explosive  Usher Waltz   of Nikita Koshkin.

Colombia-born Ricardo Cobo takes it all in stride.  He is an impeccable guitarist who never lets his technical fastidiousness impede the verve of the music.  On the contrary, it is placed squarely at its service.  One minute into La  Muerte  del  Angel,  Cobo seemed to disappear, leaving only the unencumbered voice of Piazzolla.  And so it went throughout the recital.

The sound is in keeping with all the other elements of this release–it’s first-rate.
        William Zagorsky                    

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