by Bob McQuiston
An all-star cast, including guitarist Pepe Romero and the legendary I Solisti di Zagreb, heads up these performances of three concertos by Ernesto Cordero. Born in New York in 1946, Cordero was raised in Puerto Rico where he teaches guitar and composition at the University of Puerto Rico. Each of these works is an appealing musical paella with Caribbean seasoning.
The three-movement Concierto Festivo for guitar and strings, composed in 2003, is dedicated to Romero, whose commanding performance proves that at age 67 he’s still one of today’s finest guitarists. The twitchy, tango-riffed opening movement has a theme recalling Rodrigo’s celebrated guitar concertos.
The following adagio begins mysteriously with shimmering strings that usher in a moving canción for the soloist. But the mood shifts in the finale where quivering strings introduce a stately theme. It’s energetically embroidered by the guitar and subjected to clever variations in an animated dialogue for soloist and orchestra. It all ends with guitar fireworks.
The two other concertos on the album, both for violin and strings, are programmatic travelogues inspired by the landscape, flora, fauna and cultural elements of Puerto Rico. The latter include Hispanic and African influences as well as those indigenous to the island.
Insula: Suite Concertante, from 2009, alludes to a Caribbean folk dance known as the guajira and was, according to the composer, at one point influenced by Erik Satie’s Trois gymnopédies. The piece closes with a highly syncopated, harmonically adventurous “Salsa Fantasy” derived from Caribbean dance music of African origin.
Our island tour continues with Concertino Tropical from 1998. It opens with “Yerba bruja” (Witch-herb), a movement that sparkles with insistent rhythmic fluctuations and violin bravura. The following adagio is serene — influenced by the island’s towering mahogany trees — and features modally based motifs that add a Renaissance feel. The concerto ends spectacularly as the soloist takes flight in a breathtaking moto perpetuo inspired by Puerto Rico’s “Golden Hummingbird.”
Founded in 1953 by renowned cellist and conductor Antonio Janigro, I Solisti di Zagreb sounds as great as ever, delivering stunning support to Romero and violinist Guillermo Figueroa. Exemplary performances all around make these concerti shine all the brighter. Cordero couldn’t have better advocates.
Bob McQuiston revels in under-the-radar repertoire at his website Classical Lost and Found.