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Roberto Sierra: Sinfonia N° 3 ‘La Salsa’ – Beyond the Silence of Sorrow – Borikén – El Baile
Martha Guth (Soprano), Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, Maximiano Valdés (Conductor)
Recording: Sala Sinfónica Pablo Casals, San Juan, Puerto Rico (September 10-13, 2014) – 74’ 42
Naxos American Classics #8.559817 – Booklet in English

Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra musical director Maximiano Valdés conducts a dazzling collection of works by contemporary classical Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra showcasing the composer’s entrancing aesthetic range in a new recording released on Naxos American Classics.

Valdés opens with Sierra’s musically panoramic Sinfonia N° 3 ‘La Salsa’ (2005), a commission by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and deserved winner of the Koussevitzky International Recording Award (KIRA.) If, while listening, you can resist getting up and dancing in the opening movement, “Tumbao”, you have great self control. “Tumbao” refers to traditional pianissimo riffs which Sierra ignites under a pulsing symphonic drive.

The second “Habanera” movement has orchestral evocations, a journey or transition, or perhaps a flight from or to something life-changing. Equally dramatic is “Danzas” punctuated with raucous timpani, woodwind and strings dialogues. “Jolgorio”, the boisterous finale, is inspired by Afro-Caribbean line-dances that starts off with a big band Dominican Republic style meringue. It first swings into “Danzas”, followed by Puerto Rican 19th century composer Juan Morel Campos’ treasured melodies. Sierra also uses instrumental versions of the vocal traditions of satirical text called plena.

The music of Caribbean Island antiquity also builds the sonic architecture of Borikén by orchestrally mapping the legends of a supposedly vanished people whose musical heritage lives on in folkloric expression. Written in 2005 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Casals Festival (which Valdés also directs) is a mosaic of orchestral colors and moods that preserves voicings and rhythms of The Borikén.

El Baile (2012) has a Ravelean atmosphere in its opening development, then spiky sonic intrusions of brass and rhythmic blocks, carving territory of neoclassical structures in a torrent of percussive drive. This work is cinematic in the best sense.

Soprano Martha Guth sings Sierra’s 2002 lyrical song cycle Beyond the Silence of Sorrow. Sierra scored six poems by N. Scott Mornady who wrote poetry inspired by his traditions of Native American storytelling and his Kiowa-Cherokee heritage of living with one within the environment.

The golden-centered soprano is earthy and ethereal during “Prayer for the Land” featuring harp and woodwind description, emulating a pouring of lush orchestral waves. Inside “About Me Like a Robe” Guth’s silvery vocalization rides atop a frenzied orchestra. In contrast, Guth uses soulful operatic chanteuse for “To Tell You of My Love.” The traditional song quality of “The Woman Who Walked Here” essays a soaring vocal tribute to the strength of generations of Native American women.

Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1956 by Spanish cellist Pablo Casals after the Puerto Rican government invited him to live there. The stellar musicianship and artistry of this orchestra comes vibrantly through on these tracks. Finely engineered by Tim Handley and recorded over four days in 2014 at Sala Sinfónica Pablo Casals studios in San Juan, this should be counted among the best contemporary classical recordings of the year.

Lewis J. Whittington




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