Col Legno's Jesús Rueda: Chamber Works is the first disc wholly devoted to music of Rueda, who studied with Luis de Pablo, Francisco Guerrero, and took some of the last classes offered by Italian master Luigi Nono. The disc includes seven works for chamber ensembles of varying kinds ranging from Cadenza, which takes the form of a short concerto for piano and chamber orchestra, to Ítaca, which is scored for the "Pierrot Lunaire" combination of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. Rueda's music is performed by the modular chamber group Proyecto Gerhard under the direction of one of Spain's conductors, José de Eusebio, additionally featuring Ananda Sukarlan as piano soloist in the works that call for it. In terms of performance and recording, this is of such high quality that one might expect Rueda could hardly do better had he brought his music to the Ensemble InterContemporain, and indeed, that is the group that commissioned Cadenza.
The program is divided into two chronological periods, opening with three works from 1996-1997 and then four from 1991-1992. The earlier pieces seem more effective with their flittering winds, rolling piano gestures, and hints of spectralism, whereas ones that are more recent sound increasingly dense in texture and generally less inspired. Respected Belgian classical music reviewer Harry Halbreich contributed a repetitive and rather annoying liner note that contradicts itself on several points, though he gets one detail right -- the early Mas la noche (1991) for chamber orchestra is the best piece on the disc. It presents a solid musical idea from the beginning and keeps its trajectory going forward for 11 effectively argued minutes. Bitácora (1992) for piano quartet gets off to a good start, but Rueda loses the thread about halfway through. Una leyenda (1990) for flute, clarinet, cello, and piano is a work that is seriously considered, but nonetheless whimsical in its effect -- perhaps not quite what Rueda wanted. Cadenza (1997) is the sort of thing that could be programmed and played at IRCAM without anyone wondering if it was good or not, so steeped it is in a kind of Boulezian backwater.
Halbreich praises Rueda for his disavowal of serialist principles and for "not eschewing consonance, which is by no means synonymous with tonality" -- an oxymoronic, post-modernist cliché in the making if ever there was one; Halbreich almost does his subject a disservice by trying to explain too hard what Rueda is up to. By comparison, the consonant ingredients employed in a contemporary work such as Karel Goeyvaerts' Litanie 3 are presented as events that rivet one's attention, rather than as unrecognizable elements within a flying spaghetti monster-styled debris, such as is the case here. Jesús Rueda also once briefly entertained an interest in electro-acoustic music, and he has branched into orchestral music, as well -- the Arditti String Quartet has recorded three string quartets by him. With any luck, these additional endeavors will provide a little more meat for the listener than the slim pickings found here on Col Legno's Jesús Rueda: Chamber Works.