David Gilbert / Bronx Arts Ensemble

Bomba Sinfonica: Music of William Cepeda

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Start with the booklet notes by Rafael Enrique Irizarry, which combine a fine level of polemics -- there are still plenty of people around in Puerto Rico who believe that the island's percussion music and its classical tradition should remain in separate spheres -- with vivid description of the music on these two discs. Irizarry points out that, on the classical side, Puerto Rican-born, Bronx-based composer William Cepeda takes the music of Mahler as a major inspiration. One gets the feeling that only financial and logistical considerations stop him from working on a Mahler-sized canvas, but this is still sweeping music that seeks to encompass the scenes depicted in the music rather than just evoke them. Cepeda's way of treating the texts is especially suggestive of Mahler's influence. The popular component of the music comes from the Afro-Puerto Rican style known as bomba, which in its original form has a strong dance component. Cepeda, you might say, makes his orchestra take the role of the dancer. Sample the five-minute Baila Bomba (CD 2, track 4) for an idea in compact form of what the music sounds like. Cepeda contributes notes of his own to the booklet, explaining the frame of reference of each piece and also summarizing the texts, which are not otherwise given and are not fully intelligible even to competent Spanish speakers. The soloists get into the spirit of the music, and the Bronx Arts Ensemble Orchestra under David Gilbert shows how much talent remains available in New York thanks to the city's historically strong system of public music education. This disc ought to inspire further performances of Cepeda's music, for any of the short pieces here (they were originally apparently part of a single multimedia presentation) would be ideal for the cultural outreach programs being undertaken by so many symphonic organizations.

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