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