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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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“Whoops and roars” at a …Classical guitar concert?

» 23 April 2008 » In Reviews » Comments Off on “Whoops and roars” at a …Classical guitar concert?

At the intermission of the April 23 classical guitar concert featuring Ricardo Cobo and Christopher McGuire at UNLV’s Doc Rando Recital Hall, I overheard two different groups of friends jokingly refer to their hanging out between acts as “tailgating.” It made me laugh, then think. Classical guitar in Las Vegas? Of course, there is no cultural reference point for this in a city of clubs, neon and millionaire productions. So Las Vegans at such an event must import concepts from that world to make sense of what they’re seeing and hearing.

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The Washington Post

» 25 July 2006 » In Reviews » Comments Off on The Washington Post

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Grace Notes Elevate Alexandria Guitar Festival

The annual Alexandria Guitar Festival is one of the undiscovered gems of the summer music scene, bringing some of the planet’s best classical guitarists to town for a week of intimate and always interesting recitals. The seven-concert series closed, alas, over the weekend — but not before showcasing some spectacular talent.

The Colombian guitarist Ricardo Cobo may be one of the finest guitarists of our time — certainly he’s a first-rank interpreter of Latin American music, as he showed in the tango-flavored second half of Saturday’s program. From the driving “Acrilicos en Asfalto,” by Eduardo Martin, to smoky cafe music from Horacio Salgán and the classic “La Muerte del Angel,” by Astor Piazzolla, Cobo has the smoldering sensuality of Latin music deep in his blood, and played with heart-clenching passion.

— Stephen Brookes

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American Record Guide. Spring 2004

» 01 April 2004 » In Reviews » Comments Off on American Record Guide. Spring 2004

March/April 2004

American Record Guide
Piazzolla, Brouwer, Pujol, Carlevaro, Reis, 
Salgan, Villoldo, Pereira
Ricardo Cobo—Naxos 557329—60 minutes

It was initially hard for me to muster enthusiasm for yet another potpourri of Latin American guitar miniatures. But when the guitarist is Ricardo Cobo it doesn’t much matter that there is a glut of such releases. The Colombian-born Cobo, a winner of several international competitions in the late 80s, is a world-class talent, possessed of stunning technique, penetrating musicianship, and a beautifully refined sound. I cannot imagine more satisfying or engaging interpretations of this music; his readings are incisive and vigorous in the fast pieces, dark and soulful in the more contemplative works, and every phrase is shaped by an impeccable musical instinct.

Several works here are presented in new arrangements by Cobo, including Piazzolla’s well known tangos ‘La Muerte del Angel’ and ‘Primavera Porteña’, which serve as bookends to the program. His arrangements offer refreshing new insights into these often played pieces; the works sound fresh and alive, as though one were hearing them for the first time. Considering the ubiquity of Piazzolla these days, both on the guitar and in other settings, this is no small feat.

The works that come between the two Piazzolla tangos range from the unassuming waltzes of Dilermando Reis, which Cobo plays with incomparable poetry, to the more ambitious Elegía por La Muerte de un Tanguero by Máximo Diego Pujol, a three-movement homage to Piazzolla. This piece is harmonically richer than some of Pujol’s other works, especially the haunting ‘Melancolía’ movement, and Cobo invests even its simplest passages with an expressive depth and interpretive commitment that make the whole utterly persuasive. This charismatic interpretive voice is everywhere in evidence here, transforming what initially appears to be an ordinary recital into a truly extraordinary listening experience. With each sterling passage Cobo confirms his position as one of the finest guitarists of his generation.


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San Antonio Express-News

» 22 October 2000 » In Reviews » Comments Off on San Antonio Express-News

October 22, 2000

Guitarists strum up success
Festival features Cuban composer, additional talents

The guitar world enjoyed a love fest Friday night when Cuba’s Leo Brouwer, the most revered living composer for the instrument, conducted his own “Toronto” Concerto and other works for the Southwest Guitar Festival. Travis Park United Methodist Church was nearly filled with about 1,000 listeners, including locals and registrants for the Guitar Foundation of America’s international convention, which ran concurrently with the festival.

Conducting a San Antonio Symphony chamber orchestra, Brouwer opened with music from Mexico – Silvestre Revueltas’ “Homenaje a F. García Lorca” and Manuel Ponce’s “Concierto del Sur,” with guitar soloist Gonzalo Salazar. Brazilian guitarist and composer Egberto Gismonti was represented by “Sert¢es e Veredas I” for strings.

The finale was Brouwer’s Concerto No. 4, composed for John Williams and first performed in Toronto. The soloist here was the remarkable Ricardo Cobo. Brouwer began his career as a nationalist, then followed the European avant-garde of the ’50s and ’60s, and finally, tiring of hermetic modernism, settled into an attractive, individual romanticism, the style of this concerto. Two traits unite all of Brouwer’s styles – a highly fluid form of rhythmic complexity, recalling the African influence on Cuban music, and generosity of spirit.

This is music by a man who has discovered wonderful sounds and rhythms and is eager to share them with his friends. Though craft and virtuosity and intellect undergird every bar, the music comes across as natural, joyous and humane.

The “Toronto” Concerto is notable for Brouwer’s wonderful way of combining the colors of the guitar and the instruments of the orchestra; Brouwer painted as a young man, and this is painterly music. Cobo’s performance, too, was characterized by generosity of spirit, to say nothing of knockout virtuosity. His playing was extrovert, lyrical, rhythmically alive. Every line knew where it was going. His tone had a deep gloss and brilliant highlights. Salazar’s patrician style and elegant technique were well suited to Ponce’s concerto. The Revueltas piece desperately needed more rehearsal, but Gismonti’s, a sort of Brazilian hoedown, came off well.
Memo: MUSIC. Section: Metro / South Texas
Edition: Metro Page: 3B Record Number: 515213
Copyright 2000 San Antonio Express-News

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Soundboard Magazine: Cobo’s Brouwer Vol I

» 15 October 1999 » In Reviews » Comments Off on Soundboard Magazine: Cobo’s Brouwer Vol I

Just for the Record.  James Ried.  Fall, 1999. Comments – The several times I have seen Ricardo Cobo perform, I have been very impressed by his combination of facility, musicality and intensity. All these characteristics are abundantly present on this fine disc. Every selection is carefully and convincingly rendered down to the last note. In the “Etudes Simples”, for example, he can be lyrical and tender, or fiery, according to the needs of each study. In his performance of his “Danza Característica,” articulation and a wide dynamic range are combined to craft a powerful interpretation. The “Fugue No. 1” is an example of wonderfully clear contrapuntal playing, and the “Guajira” that follows is equally impressive, as it represents the romantic side of Brouwer’s personality. As I listened to this CD, I was reminded of what a powerful composer Leo Brouwer was and still is. These pieces, mostly examples of his early works, speak as forcefully now as they did when they were first written, and one could not ask for a more eloquent interpreter of these works than Ricardo Cobo.  

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Los Angeles Times: Cobo, Guitar Duo Show Rare Prowess

» 01 July 1996 » In Reviews » Comments Off on Los Angeles Times: Cobo, Guitar Duo Show Rare Prowess

 July 1996.

Cobo, Guitar Duo Show Rare Prowess

Setting-and raising-standards for students and public alike is part of what programs such as CSU Summer Arts is all about. Today at Cal State Long Beach’s Daniel Recital Hall, the guitar and lute faculty continued to do its part, with fresh, highly effective performances from Ricardo Cobo and the Newman and Oltman Guitar Duo.

Indeed, Cobo set the bar so high that despair must have been as much a part of the package as inspiration for the students in the audience. Armed with a cup of coffee as well as his guitar, Cobo strode onstage clearly ready to melt nylon and mesmerize listeners. By way of unscheduled introduction, he offered a movement from Leo Brouwer’s tricky “Decameron Negro” and then delivered a pair of Astor Piazzolla tangos with rare definition and’ characterful nuance.

No matter what the pace, the Colombian guitarist neither contorts the rhythmic spine of the music nor cheapens the colors, as he proved deftly in the fanciful Sonata that Brouwer’ wrote for Julian Bream. ‘ And then he turned to display pieces. Graceful musicality was as evident as superhuman technique in an unhackneyed troika from Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, Antonio Lauro and Roland Dyens.

For the second half of the evening, Michael Newman and Laura Oltman offered the series’ first ensemble installment. Having performed together for almost 20 years now, they form an assured and synergistic partnership. They” too, are able to play expressively at speed, as they demonstrated with the motor energies of “Horo,” by the young Bulgarian composer Atanas Ourkouzounov. Dusan Bogdanovic’s rhythmically punchy Sonata Fantasia, also Balkan folk-inspired, gave them greater opportunity, to display their interpretive prowess. Their loving arrangements brought a measure of revivification to five Isaac Albeniz staples, although the rubato-laden performances often bordered, on over-interpretation. In encore the duo offered a sprightly account of John Dowland’s four-hands, one-instrument novelty “My Lord Chamberlain, His Galliard.”


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