Sounds of the Americas | Michael Daugherty, composer

Sounds of the Americas
Tonar Music/December 2008


Bay of Pigs
Manuel Barrueco, classical guitar
Cuarteto Latinoamericano



The pairing of Peabody’s Manuel Barrueco and Cuarteto Latinoamericano, once again, yields sublime results. Last year, the master guitarist and Mexican string quartet recorded Tango Sensations, a rousing set of Astor Piazzolla compositions that was the most evocative and satisfying interpretation of the tango master’s material I’d ever heard. This time around, they tackle pieces by four other composers: Michael Daugherty, Gabriela Lena Frank, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Roberto Sierra. The disc opens with Daugherty’s “Bay of Pigs,” an elegy for Cuba. Its three movements reflect Cuba’s turbulent vitality, especially the first piece, “Havana Dreams.” In it, Barrueco uses a snippet of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” to foreshadow the cascading, roiling, and swirling passages he plays over the urgent, almost violent, strings. Considering the U.S.’s tangled and tortuous history with Cuba, Daugherty’s bittersweet reference to Hendrix borders on genius. Of the remaining material—which all comes highly recommended—Kernis’s “100 Greatest Dance Hits” stands out as a piece that, on paper, seems disastrous. According to the composer, its influences include rock’s African roots, salsa, and easy listening music, with “a final movement steeped in 70s disco and gentle funk.” Sounds suspect, doesn’t it? But amazingly, those disparate elements add up to a focused, engaging, and spirited composition. And it makes me wonder what these guys will do next.

– John Lewis