Oscuro, for mixed voices and chamber ensemble, is created around a fascinating premise. He sets two poems by Mexican poets, Francisco Alaraeon and Amado Nervo, first in Spanish and then in English translation, with brief instrumental interludes interspersed in the set. Ortiz cites Gesualdo as an influence, and it's easy to hear the choral sections, particularly the Spanish settings, as madrigals, with the eccentricity of Gesualdo's chromaticism here intensified to produce rich, dense, chocolatey sonorities. They never feel heavy, though, because Ortiz surrounds them with a delicate, skittering instrumental filigree.
The English settings -- leaner, less melismatic and more contrapuntal -- provide a textural contrast and allow for easier understanding of the words while maintaining a high level of harmonic inventiveness. Chanticleer, conducted by David Milnes, performs with the precision, effortless-sounding virtuosity, and warm blend for which it is acclaimed. The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players provide the lively and quirky instrumental accompaniment. Concierto Rastrojero, for marimba and solos strings, echoes the instrumental writing of Oscuro. In the first and third movements, its high energy and the clarity and brightness of the orchestration occasionally recall Andriessen's rhythmically charged scores, but with a Latin sensibility.
In the second movement, Ortiz uses rolls on the lowest notes of the marimba, accompanied by sustained strings to create a startlingly unique and sepulchral sound -- this is genuinely spooky music. Here again the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players prove to be not only fine performers, but also skilled entertainers. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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