Manuel Barrueco
EMI Classics

In a country long ambivalent toward the vitality of Afro-Cuban expression and its creative contribution to national culture, the relationship between Cuban folk music and 20th-century Cuban classical composition is instructive. Economic and political difficulties in the 1920s and 1930s fueled an outpouring of nationalist sentiment among the Cuban intelligentsia, who repudiated the overbearing influence of European and North American cultural models by drawing consciously on African traditions as the most organic expression of Cuban identity. Best known of the composers represented on this album is Ernesto Lecuona (1896-1963). Like his contemporaries, white and black, Lecuona tried to resolve the contradictory artistic convergence of racism and cultural nationalism by consciously stylizing elements of Afro-Cuban street music in a "purifying" and "universalizing" effort to gain mass appeal at home and abroad. Lecuona's familiar "La Comparsa" and "Danza Lucumí" are in that vein, as is Héctor Angulo's nine-part "Cantos Yorubas de Cuba," based on West African melodies gathered in the Matanzas region by folklorist Rogelio Martinez Fure. Leo Brouwer's "Rito de las Orishas" (the Yoruba Afro-Cuban ritual deities) is similarly inspired. But not all composers of the last 60 years have sought to nationalize Afro-Cuban musical expression. José Ardévol led a movement that rejected the inspiration of black working-class musical genres, and his "Sonata for Guitar" offers a formally modernist European contrast to work drawing on Afro-Cuban styles. Manuel Barrueco, himself a white Cuban exiled in his youth, is a world-class classical guitarist whose spirited artistry and technical precision resonate throughout. His work both valorizes the immutable Afro-Cuban folk influence on modern Cuban classical composition, and sustains the historical tension between elite and popular artistry in representations of Cuban national identity. - Michael Stone

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