Bliss of Heaven: Music of the New World
Daniel Rojas, piano/ Baldini Quartet/ Stephen Cuttriss, bandoneon
Da Vinci Classics C00379
Written by Randolph Magri-Overend
Prior to reviewing a CD I have a fair idea of what the contents will consist of. In this case, I was in for a pleasant surprise. With a quick look at the contents it is forgivable to assume that music played by a piano, a quartet and a bandoneon will result in half an hour of sambas, or tangos or both. And with titles such as Tico Tico No Fura (Sparrow in the Cornmeal…did you know that?) by Zequinha De Abreu as part of the menu, what else could I think?
But, Daniel Rojas has other ideas. First let me relate Daniel’s background which will help to explain why this is a distinctive and unusual album. Dr Rojas is a Chilean-born Australian pianist who also possesses a Masters in Composition from Sydney University and a PhD. He is recognised as a composer, arranger and specialist in Latin American music. He is an exceptional pianist and has led an active career as a composer-in-residence with various orchestras and received various commissions from musical ensembles, soloists and groups. In 2012 Rojas released his first album, Latin Piano Expressions featuring his own works, Piazzolla’s Resureccion de Angel and Histiore du Tango as well as four improvisations. The album was praised in the AU Review, and selected as ‘Editor’s Choice’ in Limelight Magazine.
He has composed two Piano Concertos – the first one entitled The Latin Piano Concerto is the more popular of the two with performances by the Queensland Symphony, the Sydney University Symphony Orchestra (under George Ellis, no less) the Kuringai Philharmonic and the Sydney Youth Philharmonic in 2006. The second piano concerto Entre Ritos y Parrandas and commissioned by Ars Musica Australis is more orthodox in structure.
Talking about orthodoxy, Daniel is anything but. That is the charm of this CD. As well as relying on the essential South American rhythms, Rojas’ compositions, in some of the pieces, filters themes from musical history. It’s a way, I expect, of delving back into time and connecting with the old masters. For example, in Piazzolla’s Libertango (an essential choice, I suppose) he includes references to Bach’s Prelude in C-minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier. He also features contrapuntal passages from Bach’s same opus, but this time the B-flat variation, in Jesús ‘Chucho’ Valdés’ Mambo Influenciado. Subtle harmonic dissonances from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde are also introduced in Consuelo Velázquez Bésame Mucho (another obvious choice) which is played in a sedate and tranquil tempo.
Harsh sounds and clashing harmonies are also part of Daniel Rojas’ musical vocabulary. I would almost call the harmonies brutal. They are part of Rojas’ tribute to a close family member’s ‘poignant episode’ which he anguished over. The piece is called just simply Brother.
In closing, I’ll refer to Rojas notes describing the recording sessions in Brazil that produced this CD where he writes: “the personal and musical chemistry [in the sessions] was palpable, synergetic and inspirational. Heaven blew us a kiss and we bathed in its bliss!” Amen.
About Randolph Magri-Overend
“When I first set foot on the Sydney Opera House stage to act in Boris Godunov in late 1979, I hoped my Nannu Gusi was taking note from up above. He was the driving force behind my love for classical music, especially opera. Since that first step I played out my fantasies many a time in other operas. At the time I was trying to make it as a classical singer…even a young Simone Young was my coach. But I was never successful and later in life I became a ‘disc jockey’ for the likes of Fine Music (amongst others). I also wrote reviews, programmes and wrote articles for their magazine. I hope I can share the joy I harbour for music with you.”