Paul Desenne: Jaguar Songs. Nancy Green, cello; Cello Classics CC1026, ©2010, 55:00, $20.00, available online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & Borders.com.
Paul Desenne (b. 1959) is a Venezuelan composer and cellist, a founding member of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra. He subsequently spent a decade living in Paris and then returned to his native country where he frequently plays with the Simón Bolívar Symphonic Orchestra and has taught at the Simón Bolívar Conservatory in Caracas. He was a 2009 Guggenheim fellow, and the "Best Actor" winner that year in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Fiction and Documentary Festival for his role in the film Andante ma non troppo. He is also a writer and journalist.
Nancy Green is an internationally acclaimed performer and recording artist. She studied at the Juilliard School in NYC with Leonard Rose and Lynn Harrell, with Jacqueline du Pré in London, and worked with Mstislav Rostropovich. If the surname sounds familiar to North Carolinians, it is because she is the grand-daughter of outdoor drama luminary and UNC-CH theatre dedicatee, Paul Green. She now resides in Chapel Hill.
These are works for solo or multiple cellos without accompaniment by any other instruments (3 works for 4 celli: “Glass Bamboo Frog Consort,” “Pájaro-Guaracha,” and “Kaliguasa”; 2 for 3: “Aeroglifos” and “Pizziquitiplás”; 1, Jaguar Songs, for solo). Green performs all parts of all tracks, using dubbing techniques in the 3- and 4-cello pieces. It is difficult to believe that all the sounds she produces are made with nothing but a cello, with the exception of the final track, which offers a second hearing of the final movement of the 4-movement sonata that lends its title to the CD with some electronic enhancements handled by the CD’s sound engineer, Wiley Ross. According to the notes, the jaguar represents blood, death, or sudden commotion in Amazonian mythology.
The music is very eclectic. It melds ethnic melodies, rhythms, and imitations of the sounds of native instruments with influences of the South American continent’s colonizers found in its popular music and classical forms. A couple of the works are reminiscent of the styles of Villa-Lobos and Piazzolla. It is exciting and interesting music with infectious rhythms and captivating melodies. Some of them are obsessively repetitive; others are haunting. Some of the works are heavily percussive. The longest of them, other than the nearly 22-minute sonata, is under 9 minutes. The performance is amazing, a tour de force; one often wishes there were a video to be able to see how Green produces the extraordinary sounds.
The 8-page booklet includes explanatory notes by the composer that give details of the relationships of the works to their ethnic or historico-topical connections or inspirations, bios of him and Green, both accompanied by head-shot photos, with track listings (where the timing of the first movement of the sonata is mistakenly printed adjacent to the work’s title, creating a slight confusion) on the inside of the front cover. The artwork on the cover is a reproduction of a colorful painting by Ross Lewallen of a Jaguar superimposed on the body of a jungle native, whose head looks up towards the sky with the Milky Way behind it, its swirl also suggesting (to me at least) a melody floating through the air, past and into the ear.