Renaissance Man

If music has a certified renaissance man, it most certainly is the Buenos Aires-born, New Jersey-based Carlos Franzetti. For the past three decades, this enterprising composer, arranger, pianist and vocalist has proven that the mastery of any music idiom, from salsa to symphonic works, is easily within his grasp. He has collaborated with a who’s who of the Latin music world and captured a fist-full of Grammies along the way. In addition to his frequent forays into the world of classical music, Franzetti has also become one of foremost interpreters of his homeland’s tango, finding new and rewarding ways to reinterpret it.

With Pierrot et Colombine (Sunnyside), he forges disparate influences into a thoroughly captivating chamber music-based homage to, as he explains, “one of the most lovable and tragic characters of universal theater.” Through 18 scene-setting aural vignettes, some featuring a recorded-in-Argentina string orchestra, Franzetti explores a range of temperaments, from gaiety to melancholy, that reflect Pierrot’s mental state as he tries, unsuccessfully, to win the hand of the lovely Colombine.

Franzetti won a Latin Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition for “Zingaros,” an orchestral track that’s loaded with Stravinsky-esque angst and edginess. “Luna” pulses ever so gently to nostalgic tango-grounded voicings, while “End of the Affair” is captured by icy chords from Franzetti’s pianist wife Allison and dueling counter melodies expressed by violinist Leonardo Suarez Paz and clarinetist Andy Fusco. From beginning to end, Pierrot et Colombine mesmerizes with the lush beauty of its haunting melodies and the wide scope of its tragi-comédie moods. Franzetti has produced yet another exquisite masterpiece of singular distinction.

The artistry of Cuba’s Leo Brouwer, a renowned composer and guitarist, is showcased on Beatlerianas (Zoho Classix), featuring New York-based Brazilian classical guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima and The Havana String Quartet. As the title suggests, compositions by John Lennon and Paul McCartney are the session’s focal point, featuring chamber music-fashioned versions of such hits as “Yesterday,” “Eleanor Rigby” and “Penny Lane.” Familiar and warming to the ear, these elegant Beatles remakes serve as a prelude to a program that extends deep into Brouwer’s repertoire. His works for solo guitar include the rhythmically robust “Paisaje Cubano Con Fiesta,” while “Micropiezas”---five short studies---were written for two guitars. Beatlerianas is an enchanting performance, illuminated by Barbosa-Lima’s refined, intuitive touch and the Havana String Quartet’s vivacious musicality.

In the hands of Berta Rojos, the classical guitar truly becomes the world’s instrument---a means of bridging wide cultural divides via the uncommon clarity and inherent loveliness of her music. On Salsa Roja (On Music Recordings), the native of Paraguay proves once again that she is among the planet’s best at defying the strictures of traditional concert hall repertoire to seek out and amplify worthy nontraditional material. One example is her choice of four works by the British guitarist and composer Vincent Lindsey-Clark. His “Salsa Roja” is a joyous, rhythmically vibrant tune that captures some of the pizzazz of good tropical Latin pop music. Another captivating choice is Costa Rican guitarist and composer Edín Solís’ “Tambito Josefino.” A member of his country’s famed trio Editus, which has collaborated with such artists as Tania Libertad and Rubén Blades, Solís based the tune on a popular Costa Rican folk rhythm. Here, Rojas is accompanied by Asunción’s Recycled Instruments Orchestra, a youth group that has made its own musical instruments from the trash at a local landfill. It’s but one of many magical moments on this rewarding release.

A welcome survey of 20th Century Mexican classical fare is what pianist Jorge Federico Osorio offers in tandem with conductor Clarlos Miguel Prieto and the Orquesta Sinfónica de México. On the bracing Carlos Chávez Piano Concerto (Cedille), the pianist also presents works by Samuel Zyman and José Pablo Moncayo, also notable Mexican composers of the last century.

Osorio, a native of Mexico City who today calls the Chicago area home, brings his trademark refined technique and sense of drama to the three movement concerto. The concerto’s third movement is particularly entrancing, loaded with orchestral bravado and explosive pianistics. As the album’s Uruguayan annotator Elbio Barilari comments, Chávez’s music is “at once austere and extraordinarily energetic, cosmopolitan and up-to-date, while being completely and unequivocally Mexican.”

Mark Holston