Francisco Guerrero: Zayin (I-VII)

Arditti Quartet
Almaviva DS-0127

No, not that Francisco Guerrero; instead of the Renaissance polyphonist, we have here the “Spanish Xenakis.” Before his premature death in 1997 at the age of forty-six, Guerrero honed a relentless style of clouds of harsh attacks and spiraling glissandi, controlled by quasi-mathematical fractal patterns and combinatoric logic. The result can sound quite like the music of his Greek predecessor, without the brutal square rhythms or distinctive “sieve”-based harmony. This is music of great physical energy, grit and wiry strength, based on movements of gesture and register, of vertical and horizontal masses twirling and colliding. Composed between 1983 and Guerrero’s death fourteen years later, it is also a running chronicle of the composer’s mature (and maturing) style.

It should come as no surprise that most of this cycle of eight pieces for string trio or quartet (or, in the case of the lengthy Zayin VI, solo violin) was written for the Arditti Quartet, who are masters of “physical energy, grit and wiry strength.” The venerable ensemble (recording in 1997 and 1998, and thus sharing only first violinist Irvine Arditti with the quartet that bears his name in 2006) tears through these pieces with abandon, maximizing contrasts and sparing nothing in their quest for ruthless vigor. Resin is audible, glissandi are torn into until they turn into moans and screeches, and the lowest strings of the four instruments growl with a feverish intensity.

It is not all violence and blood; there are a profusion of lyrical moments in this sixty-six minute cycle, and Zayin V in particular, with its mutes and emphasis on the high registers, comes as close to gentleness as Guerrero ever gets. All in all, though, this is a bracing experience, the sort of writing that is right in the sweet spot of the Ardittis’ preferences and capabilities.

I’m not sure why Jerry sent me this disc for review; it was released more than six years ago and is not widely available (although, at the moment, it is on offer from a couple private sellers on Amazon). I was glad for the chance to hear it, though, and if hearing the Arditti Quartet in repertoire that was written for them in every possible sense of the phrase is your thing, you will be too.

5 Responses to “Francisco Guerrero’s Zayin
  1. zeno says:

    Thanks for this excellent review, Evan. I have had this very interesting chamber music CD for six years, and your review will encourage me to find it and reaudition it. I recall spending alot of time in the 80s and 90s trying to track down Guerrero recordings.
    I recall that my other two CDs by him are orchestral and chamber orchestral recordings, on Spanish labels (though I think that the actual performances took place in London or France). Thanks again.

  2. Evan Johnson says:

    There is a disc of his orchestral music on col legno; I listened to one piece last year (I think it was “Coma Berenices”) on the iPod of a British new-music pianist in an outdoor cafe in the north of France. A rather picturesque association, although I can’t say I remember much about the piece.

    Understandably, discs of his music can be hard to find via search engine; his Renaissance namesake isn’t hugely popular, but certainly much more thoroughly and variously recorded than the contemporary Guerrero…

  3. Steve Layton says:

    And, for those online MP3 buyers, I noticed over at Emusic.com that they’ve just added a ton of Spanish-label classical; among them are AlmaViva discs with a lot of Guerrero in performances different from the Col Legno.

    Props to Lovely Music, too, who’ve put their Ashley, Lucier, and Behrman out there as well!

  4. zeno says:

    Thanks, Evan and Steve. Its certainly is a new music distribution era today, Steve, which you certainly have been much better at keeping up with than I have been. I’ve always believed that small labels have served new music fairly well in terms of recording and production; but that severe problems remained in terms of economics, central storage, information, dissemination, and curatorship. In my not particularly well-informed opinion, we appear to be at the ‘Betamax’ stage of solving these severe problems of the institutionalization of new music learning and enjoyment. Thank you both, again, for sharing your reviews and links.

  5.  
Leave a Reply

*

Comment spam protected by SpamBam