Reviews of the CD Roberto Sierra: Piano Works

These are instant classics – they should be the next set of studies to be surmounted by serious pianists. [Bengtson’s] peerless technique and pianism are exactly what the devlilishly difficult studies need to be effective.

SIERRA: Studies in Rhythms & Sonorities; Lyric Pieces; Album for the Young

Matthew Bengtson, p – IBS 72022 – 67 minutes

The music of prominent Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra (b. 1953) runs the gamut from Latin-tinged crowd peasers to rigorous modernist works downstream of Ginastera and his teacher, Ligeti. This program of short piano pieces belongs (mostly) to the latter group. The virtuosic Studies in Rhythms and Sonorities (2017) are written in the spirit of the piano studies by Ligeti and Nancarrow. They concentrate on advanced pedaling techniques, contrasting dynamics, and complex rhythmic interplay, presented with breathless, hyperkinetic energy. These are instant classics – they should be the next set of studies to be surmounted by serious pianists.

The Lyric Pieces (2018) lie far away from Grieg and much closer to the fragmented cubism of Stravinsky. Abrupt tonal shifts and violent intrusions abound; he often shuffles material between the pieces, so that a thought may be abandoned, revisited, and completed several miniatures later.

The Album for the Young (2017) is comparatively tamer. They are all characteristic pieces with friendly titles, though the music is still often quite dissonant and rambunctious – the cacophanous VII ‘Thunderstorm’ is a case in point. I find it hard to believe that they are suitable, as he says, for very young players – though perhaps with the right presentation they will broaden the minds of young listeners.

Matthew Bengtson needs no introduction if you are acquainted with his marvelous Scriabin (Romeo 7308, J/A 2015). His peerless technique and pianism are exactly what the devilishly difficult studies need to be effective. He dispatches the lesser (though by no means limited) challenges of the other pieces with ease and flashiness – though he could pull back on the throttle for some of the calmer children’s pieces. But that’s just a quibble – this is astonishing playing of demanding and fascinating piano works. Let’s hear his Ligeti and Nancarrow!

FARO (Nathan Faro, American Record Guide, 2023)

On a scale of one to ten I would give it an “eleven” –  It is magnificent and very pleasant to listen to as well as intense. In my house a real hit. Highly recommended.

Read the original review online (Spanish)

Roberto Sierra: Piano Works. Matthew Bengtson: piano. Produced by IBS Classical, Granada 2022. Miguel Ángel Pérez Martín – 29/09/2022

There are instruments that define an entire musical style. It happens with guitar and flamenco, saxophone and jazz, electric guitar and rock, rebec and folk … and piano and classical music.

But the piano has technically improved a lot in two hundred years, they are perfect sound-producing machines. I say sounds because they are not always “notes” for example with the “prepared piano” or with the new piano amplification techniques through electronics, extending the range of sounds that the viewer can hear, resonances, maintenance of the notes, for example this album does not use these techniques, a perfect acoustic piano is heard.

Roberto Sierra is a composer from Puerto Rico who works in the United States collaborating with important orchestras and through a well-known pedagogical work, he has been named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. I had not heard of his works until now.

For his part, the performer, Matthew Bengtson, defines himself as a musician’s pianist, I suppose he means that he is intensely dedicated to the piano, his technique proves it. His repertoire ranges from William Byrd to Ligeti. He performs in the main auditoriums of Europe and America with outstanding success. The best thing that can happen to the works on this CD.

The disc is magnificent. It consists of three very well differentiated parts: Rhythmic and Sound Studies, Lyrical Pieces, Album for the Young.

The first – Rhythmic and Sound Studies – requires an amazing technique: atonalism, clusters, constant contrasts. It is the one that demands a more intense listening on the part of the listener or the spectator of the recitals. Magnificent, very rewarding. The “state of the art” of the current piano without a doubt.

The second part – Lyrical Pieces – is also about short pieces that are easier to listen to, the melody is easily recognized and the expression is more lyrical – obviously – and more emotional.

The third part – Album for the Young – are pieces intended for musical education and their names respond to this function: Folk Dance, Raindrops, Latin Dance, Song, Snow, Meditation, Postlude are some of the titles.

Perhaps, to give the review a personal touch, I could say that the order, if I had to choose, would be from least to greatest listening demand. But it has no influence on the final result.

On a scale of ten I would give it an “eleven”. It is magnificent and very pleasant to listen to as well as intense. In my house a real hit. Highly recommended, another achievement of this magnificent editor and Paco Moya.

I guess it’s easy to get it in the usual stores, if not: and enjoy.

– Miguel Ángel Pérez Martín, Doce Notas, 09/29/2022

We are here to recommend what this album deserves for its quality, for its freshness, and its excellence: Gold.”

Whoever isn’t aware of this composer, the Puerto-Rican Roberto Sierra, student of György Ligeti 40 years ago at the Hochschule für Musik in Hamburg, and the North-American pianist Matthew Bengtson, teaching as Associate Professor at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance, will be in for a revelation listening to this album, showing the accustomed quality at IBS Classical.

Recorded at the Auditorio Manuel de Falla in Granada between the 24th and 27th of October, 2021, the album contains forty-one tracks, with a total of almost sixty-seven minutes, without waste. It reveals the sound universe of very current music that will probably pass the test of time due to the quality of its elaboration … although here, as in few others, the fact of recreation takes on superlative importance, that close and necessary relationship between composer and interpreter to complete the reality of the reception by the listener (not just the casual listener). If Sierra creates, Bengtson recreates. Once again, the pianist creates the music written by the composer and skillfully recreates himself in the expression of the sound discourse, bringing us closer to the reality of a thought that transcends tonal or atonal, rhythmic or polyrhythmic, through a complex language capable of connecting (as do the extremes) with the simple, in a salad of chaotic appearance, conscientiously structured, of minimalism and fractals, flowing between the dreamlike, the beautiful, and the ancestral.

The album represents a contribution of great quality, whether it pleases more or less, which is justified with incalculably greater forcefulness than the outrenoir success of the recently deceased hundred-year-old French painter Pierre Soulages. The difference between composer and painter lies in whether the occurrence is capable of contributing some content, or merely remains a formalistic game. Conceptualism and cultism are old issues, and we are not here to talk about the philosophy of art, although in part we would have to take the work of the Frenchman [the painter Soulages] with philosophy and resignation; but, we are here to recommend what this album deserves for its quality, for its freshness, and its excellence: Gold.

– Antonio Soria, Melómano, La Revista de Música Clásica