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Piano Trios (Naxos)

Born in Puerto Rico in 1953, Roberto Sierra has been steadily gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as one of Amer­i­can mu­sic’s mas­ter com­posers. From 1979 to 1982, he stud­ied with the late György Ligeti; in a re­ver­sal of the usual teacher-to-pupil flow of in­for­ma­tion, Ligeti cred­ited Sierra with in­tro­duc­ing him to the vi­brant rhyth­mic pro­cesses of Caribbean mu­sic, which there­after would fig­ure im­por­tantly in Ligeti’s style. These rhythms per­me­ate Sierra’s scores, too, though they rep­re­sent only one strand in his rich mod­ernist vo­cab­u­lary. They play a part in each of his three piano trios, com­posed over the 17-year span, for 1991 to 2008. The Madrid-based Trio Ar­bós of­fers all three in keenly plot­ted in­ter­pre­ta­tions on this new disc. Ref­er­ences to Latin jazz, sul­try dances, and church singing in­fuse Trio No. 1, sub­ti­tled Trio Trop­i­cal, all in an at­mos­phere of op­pres­sive heat. It has been re­leased twice in ex­cel­lent record­ings, but hear­ing it as the point of de­par­ture to­ward Sierra’s later work proves en­rich­ing. The Sec­ond Trio dances to a 12-tone tune, touch­ing on salsa and Afro-Caribbean drum­ming. Trio No. 3, sub­ti­tled Romántico, also em­ploys a highly chro­matic vo­cab­u­lary, though still em­brac­ing its Caribbean roots. The el­e­gant, long-span­ning string melody of its slow move­ment seems al­most born of Fauré, though Sierra iden­ti­fies it as a Puerto Ri­can bolero. All three trios are en­gross­ing, but the last reaches a pin­na­cle of cre­ative con­fi­dence.

— James M. Keller

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