Though its catalog is unquestionably illustrious, the Naxos Laureate series has, by its very nature, a tendency to generate recordings that follow a formula. We all know how it is: Note-filled heavyweights from the highest echelons of the repertoire, performed with breathtaking precision and humbling velocity, alleviated by an isolated unknown work that’s usually the commissioned set piece from the competition the performer won, included in order to get the deal. Cuban guitarist Alí Arango, victor in the 2014 Alhambra Competition, toes the line by including the competition piece by David del Puerto, but elsewhere unleashes a Naxos Laureate disc that’s unequalled in its originality of thought. The only familiar item is Leo Brouwer’s “El Decamerón Negro,” and even there Arango applies his individual stamp by taking up the composer’s oft-spurned invitation to reshuffle the movements. More importantly, Arango delivers “El Decamerón” with a degree of precision and vitality that breathes new life into this much-loved contemporary classic.
Small wonder, then, that Arango was picked to premiere Brouwer’s Danzas Rituales y Festivas at the composer’s 75th birthday celebrations. The first series of this recently minted work opens the present disc and is without question another Brouwer success in the making. Restrained and genial in countenance, it is unmistakably the work of a composer who, in his mature years, no longer feels the need to grab anyone’s ear.
This understated Brouwer gem, in the company of four sophisticated Arango originals and an exhilarating finale from the Paco de Lucía legacy, makes for a compelling outing from a formidably talented guitarist of the new generation.