Music recorded by Fred Sturm

Villa-Lobos Miudinho (Bachianas 4/4)

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From Fanfare Magazine, Mar/Apr 2012, interview by Robert Schulslaper

Fred Sturm occupies an enviable position among pianists, for when his instrument needs adjustment, he doesn’t have to look further than himself for solutions. In addition to being a musician he’s also a professional piano technician, with an intimate understanding of how to please his performing alter ego. This is a marked improvement over the usual state of affairs, in which it’s not uncommon for pianists and tuners to feel that their relationship is less than a symbiotic ideal, with the technician struggling to realize the sometimes vague or imprecise suggestions of the pianist, to the mutual frustration of both. For Sturm, technology and artistry are two sides of the same coin: “Playing the piano and preparing the piano for performance are very similar endeavors in my experience,” he says. “Both require extraordinary sensitivity and attention to detail (wherein both god and the devil reside) in the pursuit of magic: that transcendent time when the music and the instrument together come to life.” Sturm also stands somewhat apart from many of his colleagues as he has chosen to concentrate almost exclusively on Latin American music. We explored both aspects of his musical personality in our recent conversation.

Q: When did you begin to play the piano?

A: I began quite early, so early that I don’t really remember. I think my father taught my older sister to read music and some fundamentals, and I had to be involved as well. I took lessons for maybe five years, had a hiatus of two years surrounding a year my family spent in Brazil when I was 12, then took three years of lessons in high school. I was not a very dedicated student. I had a strong emotional attachment to music, but I didn’t apply myself very well. I had a very average technique filled with defects when I finished high school.

Music played a large role in my home. We sat around the piano and sang songs (my father playing the piano). We went to all sorts of concerts that took place in the college town where I grew up (Oxford, Ohio). For at least a couple of years we drove an hour each way to Cincinnati to attend all the symphony concerts. And we listened to records and to the classical radio station, WGUC. Although I wouldn’t characterize my family as musical, I do have two cousins who are professional musicians: Hans Sturm is professor of bass at the University of Nebraska, and Rolf Sturm is a freelance guitarist in New York City. Their father was a professor of religion, mine a professor of philosophy. My mother was a pianist and organist, but she died when I was less than a year old, so I never knew her.

Q: Did you envision a conservatory in your future?

A No. I went to college with no intention of pursuing music. However, I spent a good deal of my free time at the piano, playing the music I knew. I started reading and working on the music of Bach, especially the French Suites, which were a revelation to me, and gradually came to the decision that I wanted to be a musician. At that point, I had notions of specializing in early music, playing the harpsichord. I came into a small inheritance at that time, and purchased a clavichord. But I was attending a liberal arts college, St. John’s College in Santa Fe, where there was no possibility of pursuing music, as the curriculum was essentially fixed and based on the Great Books of the Western World. And I was about to be drafted, this being the Vietnam War era, and I had a very low lottery number, so I dropped out. The draft was ended just before I would have been taken, so the next year I enrolled in another liberal arts college, but one with a small music program, three or four music faculty including a pianist, Eleanore Vail, who was willing to take me seriously. I did solo recitals my junior and senior years but did not get a music degree, as that would have taken a full four years. I graduated from Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, with a major in classical studies. After a year working as a housepainter to save some money, I enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where they did not require a music degree as a prerequisite for their master’s program. I simply needed to pass tests in theory and history, which I did after a period of cramming. And I successfully completed my master’s degree there.

I have to say that, while my abilities had certainly improved considerably, there were still many very serious defects in my technique, which would have limited me severely had I continued along that path. I had to reinvent my technique over a period of years, almost entirely on my own, though I took a few lessons from time to time with a couple of local people and with visiting artists who would come to town. The year I spent learning to be a piano technician, I didn’t have a piano to practice on regularly, so I worked at the harpsichord, which helped create a much more relaxed and precise approach to the keyboard. That was a good first step in trying to start over from where I was, and establish a better basis on which to build a workable technique.

I do not recommend my path to any aspiring pianist, but perhaps it shows that all is not lost if you haven’t become a virtuoso by the age of 12. I might add that my most important teachers have been the composers whose works I have tried to master, particularly Villa-Lobos, Ginastera, and Ibarra. Each has an approach to the piano that requires a very different technique. The puzzle of how to realize what they put down on the page has forced me to adapt a very particular approach to the piano, considerably different from that required by the big Classical and Romantic composers.

Q: Can you be more specific?

A: I can give you at least some inkling of what I mean. One of the real challenges in Villa-Lobos, Ginastera, and others is rhythmic accents, particularly cross rhythms where one hand does one thing, the other something else. One needs, first, to cultivate extraordinary independence of hand/arm, left and right (and halves of the brain: attention, touch, rhythm, patterns). Then, within patterns that are occurring, using the arm from shoulder down to accomplish them, certain accents need to be brought out. They can’t really be done within the hand/wrist/arm. Essentially, the impulse for the additional accent must come from the base of the spine, and be projected through the torso. And each side of the body must be able to do this independently, often in close proximity temporally. So I have cultivated a very fluid spine that can isolate each side of the torso and project those accents.

Perhaps you can see some of this in a video, though it is rather subtle: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL268ED00B34D499AD is a playlist of Villa-Lobos I have performed in the last two years. The third and fourth movements of Ciclo, “Festa no Sertão” and “Dança do Indio Branco,” are good examples, as are some Cirandas, perhaps “Senhora Dona Sanchez,” “Nesta Rua, Nesta Rua,” and “A Canoa Virou” in particular. You will notice that my head is more mobile than it needs to be. In part that is a result of the less noticeable spinal impulses. I’m sure some is “manneristic” in the sense of being my physical manifestation of inner emotion. And some comes from simply moving to stay loose.

With respect to Ibarra, one particular figuration that appears in many of his sonatas is a three-note chromatic fragment that is done with one hand and then echoed with the other, very rapidly and very lightly. This must be extraordinarily even to get the right effect. Each hand must get off the keys to allow the other to take them over, in various patterns. Good examples are the third movement of Sonata No. 3 (the main figure is F-G-G, alternated between hands, and needs to be lighter than I made it on the Sonidos CD—it is quite a bit better on the takes for the upcoming Ibarra CD, and conveys the music as I think he intended it, with the “rolled” octaves melody above a wash of murmuring sound) and the beginnings of Sonatas Nos. 4 and 6. You can hear and see those on this playlist: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC433D9B6877DA6D5

I think it is true of any composer that the performer’s body must create a sort of dance that corresponds to the music to be conveyed. The purpose of the dance is to impel the fingers onto the keys, to create the sound corresponding to what is written on the page. Villa-Lobos in particular is filled with all sorts of indications most people ignore. There are very specific accents, dynamic layers of sound, pianissimo for a particular figure while the melody is mf with ff accents. The new edition by Eschig of the Prole do Bebe, Suite No. 2 is a very good example, as it shows the notational devices Villa-Lobos developed to convey things more directly, with some notes very small for instance. In other scores, you have to understand that a pp may be intended for a particular figure (and the engraver might have placed it a little wrong). Once you decipher the code, it is necessary to learn how to accomplish it. Something as simple as the accents in the second piece of Prole do Bebe, Suite No. 1, in the accompaniment figure that goes throughout the piece—not so easy to do, to make that little melody happen throughout the piece, distinguishable but in the background, while the other 16th notes are a mere wash of color. It requires a physical impulse from somewhere other than the fingers and forearm, which are busy merely playing the notes of the figure (rotating), so the accent has to come from somewhere else. There is an analogous problem in the first piece of the second Prole suite, but in a 3 + 3 + 2 pattern, a little more difficult to achieve. I guess that gives a few more specific examples, but the music abounds in them.

Q: You differ from many pianists in that you’re not only a performer but a master piano technician. How did this dual career come about?

A: It was a question of coming up with an amenable day job, to support my desire to continue to be a performing pianist. When I completed my master’s degree in piano performance I decided I didn’t really want to teach privately, or be an accompanist, and a satisfying academic career seemed unlikely. I wanted to live in New Mexico. I liked the idea of working with my hands at a skilled craft. So I went through a one-year training program and plunged into the profession of piano technician.

Over the years, I have honed my skills in preparing a piano to be an expressive, responsive musical instrument, through factory training and opportunities provided by the Piano Technicians Guild, of which I am an active member. At the same time I have honed my skills as a pianist. Each pursuit has informed the other. Playing the piano gives me an insight into the effects of various things a piano technician does to the instrument. Being a better technician and doing finer preparation of the instruments under my care gives me, as a pianist, instruments I can rely on to create a solid technique, and to perform on with assurance. And I have a better understanding of what I feel while playing, what the possibilities of the piano are and how to achieve them. In many instances, I have found that I could not play certain passages to my satisfaction due to limitations in the instrument, so I have made subtle changes to the action to make those passages possible, changes that were positive in any case, but so small I wouldn’t have thought they would make a difference, thinking only as a piano technician.

This is a very important factor in the development of the young (and older) pianist. We are at the mercy of the instruments we have available to practice and perform on, and it can be very difficult to find a technician who really understands our needs. Trying to learn to play with any kind of subtlety on a poorly prepared piano is an exercise in futility. Solidity and assurance only come from knowing that when we do X, Y will happen. This is a matter of many, many details all coming together to produce a whole. I have recently begun teaching a class for piano technicians called “From the Point of View of the Pianist,” in an effort to educate my colleagues about the needs of the performing pianist. It has been received very well so far.

Q: The composers on your three CDs range from the familiar—Villa-Lobos, Mompou, Granados, and Turina—to the relatively obscure (at least in North America)—Ibarra, Moncayo, Moncada, and Galindo (Rodolfo Halffter may be more of a presence, at least in Fanfare’s pages). They may all be Latin or Spanish but they’re far from uniform in mood or style, and their approach to the piano, specifically its technique and sonority, is also very individual. As you’ve lived with this repertoire for a long time, I’m sure you’ve formed many opinions about the music and its performance. Would you share a few of your insights?

A: I’ll start with Villa-Lobos, whom I consider to be one of the most neglected composers of music for the piano. I think he deserves to be considered at least on a par with Prokofiev, Bartók, Debussy, and Ravel. While he was not a classically trained pianist, he had considerable skill as an improviser at the keyboard, from his years performing in choro bands in Rio. He was very interested in the coloristic possibilities of the instrument, and particularly in the creation of complex textures, with separate and independent melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic components. He is very specific in what he asks the performer to do, with layers of dynamic level, accents placed to bring out cross-rhythms, and other detailed indications. One very common element is a rhythmic ostinato figure, which would correspond to the percussion in a choro group, most often with a specific accent pattern. This must always be very precise, as it provides the background for melodic material that is often in a cross-rhythmic relationship. It can be very difficult indeed to carry out all his indications, but when you do, the music has an amazing degree of color and vibrancy, unlike that of any other composer.

If, on the other hand, his music is played à la Debussy, it loses much of its character and can sound rather banal. But this is true of the music of other composers as well. Chopin, for instance, requires some very sophisticated use of subtle shadings and rubato to sound its best. We have a Chopin sound, or a number of variants, in our ear to use as a guide. With Villa-Lobos, that has been lacking, at least outside of Brazil. I think that is beginning to change.

The Cirandas comprise a particularly wonderful set of pieces, virtually unknown to all but Villa-Lobos aficionados. The score only became readily available outside Brazil in the 1990s, as it was under copyright to a Brazilian publisher without international distribution. Each of the pieces is based on a Brazilian children’s song, of the sort sung as part of a circle game. That simple melody provides a core around which to create a unique soundscape. The melodies are not simply harmonized and given a setting. Rather, Villa-Lobos uses them as inspiration to build a series of extraordinarily creative and individual pieces. I can’t think of a parallel set of pieces by any other composer. Granados’s Spanish Dances are perhaps the closest analogy, but in a far different style.

Q: As to Villa-Lobos’s participation in choro bands: I’d always pictured these as groups of wandering musicians playing instruments that were portable, unlike the piano. My impression was that Villa-Lobos played the guitar or even the cello on such occasions.

A: Choros were also played indoors and there were pianists who wrote and played in a choro style, notably Chiquinha Gonzaga and Ernesto Nazareth. Villa-Lobos played in restaurants (some regular gigs at particular ones), at parties, and at cinemas (background for silents and interludes as they changed reels, when he would play his own music). At that point he had his own bands. Arthur Rubinstein wrote about that in his autobiography. Villa-Lobos gigged in all sorts of ways, playing cello with classical orchestras, for instance, and he also played clarinet. I have read references to his playing piano in bands, but not specific enough to tie down—hearsay, rather too vague to trust entirely. So to be precise, I am not entirely certain that “he played piano in bands,” but think he probably did, knowing what I do. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that piano was not his main instrument in the popular bands, but he seems to have played it sometimes, and he certainly had some facility at the keyboard. My sense is that he would hear something someone did, and ask how they did it, or work it out for himself. The creation of new and interesting color is certainly a hallmark of his style, for piano and other instruments. He definitely improvised on piano in salons in Paris in the ’20s, and would often play something or other for people at gatherings later in life. (There is a recording of him playing “O Polichinelo” on YouTube.) Also, a book put together by his first wife, Lucilia, and her brothers clearly refers to the fact that he composed things like the Prole do Bebe and Cirandas at the piano, endlessly repeating various fragments and annoying the neighbors (I assume working out just precisely how he wanted a riff or a texture to sound). He is said to have had some early training at the piano from an aunt, but Lucilia disparaged his ability, presumably because he didn’t have the standard chops at scales and arpeggios and wasn’t polished in what he did. His approach was probably similar to what he did on guitar, where he was mostly self-taught and explored the instrument without preconceptions. His guitar writing is, I understand, different from the norm, and requires specific techniques to play what at first glance might seem impossible to do literally. I might also mention that he consulted with pianists about his more virtuosic works, like Prole do Bebe 2 and Rudepoema, specifically with João de Souza Lima (who wrote about it) in Paris in the early 1920s. Souza Lima was a Brazilian who went to Paris for advanced study, won first prize at the Conservatory, I believe, and eventually returned to Brazil.

Getting back to your question about the composers I’ve recorded, on the Sonidos de Nueva España CD I’d like to draw particular attention to Federico Ibarra. He is simply an amazing composer and is virtually unknown outside Mexico. He richly deserves an international reputation. He has developed his own very distinct sound on the piano, based on restricting himself to mostly chromatic melodic lines, with harmonies largely generated from fourths, tritones, seconds, and sevenths. This doesn’t seem like a very promising palette, but in his hands it becomes the basis for a very immediate expressive language, one that is instantly available to the listener. His music is emotionally charged, from the most tenderly ethereal to a driving, passionate intensity and excitement reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. And each of his six sonatas is very distinct from all the rest. He has the creative imagination to discover and construct ever-newer soundscapes. I feel blessed to have discovered his music, as it is very difficult to obtain outside Mexico. The two sonatas on the CD give an idea of his range.

I would also like to mention Rodolfo Halffter, a Spanish composer who spent most of his life in exile in Mexico. Had he remained in Europe, I feel certain he would be far better known. He wrote with wit and charm, mostly in what could be called a neobaroque style, filled with decoration and articulation. His composition is extremely tight, logically constructed, but also very much alive and expressive.

From the Spanish Dances CD, I would like to emphasize Mompou, and his Musica Callada in particular. He was a seeker of harmonic color, and said that he composed with his fingers, searching for sounds. He also said that most music has a few short segments that are really memorable, and that he wanted to write music that consisted only of those segments. His Musica Callada is a good example of this. The rather short pieces are written in a very concentrated manner, much like good poetry that can evoke complex images with a bare minimum of words. His combinations of tones create a very distinctive sound signature, unmistakably his own, with a powerful though subtle emotional content.

Q: You’re so completely immersed in this music: Do you consider yourself a specialist?

A: I have focused on music from Latin America almost exclusively for the past 20 years, with excursions to a few Spanish composers. So you could certainly call me a specialist in that area, though I would not consider myself an expert. I only work on music that really draws me strongly, and so I know the works of a few composers very well, indeed. Others, I have only a passing acquaintance with. There is a special freshness to much Latin American music, a sense of creating sound without looking over your shoulder at the entire history of European music. I find that aspect exhilarating, especially when I come across a composer, Federico Ibarra for example, who has managed to create a very individual sonic universe that corresponds to an unexplored musical/emotional universe. I want to bring that to life, to share it with those who are willing to take the time to listen. That is what inspires me to do what I do.

Q: Do you think your adult interest in Latin American Music has anything to do with the time you spent in Brazil?

A: My stay in Brazil, as well as trips around the same time to other Latin American countries, certainly broadened my worldview, and made me more aware of that area of the world. But my focus on Latin American music stems pretty directly from my father. He had a strong connection to Brazil in particular. His first academic position was in São Paulo, before I was born. He wrote his dissertation on a Brazilian philosopher, and visited the country many, many times. And he loved the music of Villa-Lobos. A good bet for a birthday present for him was to go to the record store and see if you could find something he didn’t already have. So we heard Villa-Lobos at home, but I can’t say I was all that taken with his music at the time, having more of a predilection for Bach and Beethoven.

When I did my junior recital in college, I decided to learn Alma Brasileira, mostly for my father, and it got under my skin. A few years later, he was involved in running a summer program in Brazilian studies, and would invite me to perform, so I had to learn some more music—Ciclo Brasileiro, Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, etc. And I began to program it.

About 20 to 25 years ago, I gave a concert where I played something like Schumann, Mozart, and Villa-Lobos. My wife told me the rest of the concert was very good, but when I played Villa-Lobos, I came alive. She was right. I pretty much decided from that point on to concentrate, to abandon the standard European repertory, and I have never regretted it. There is a wealth of wonderful material, and a good bit of it suits me very well.

Q: Will you be releasing further CDs of Latin American music?

A: I am working on a project recording all the piano works of Federico Ibarra. It is near completion and should be released sometime in the next few months.

Q: You’re a “serious” musician: what do you think about classical music’s presence or function in our society?

A: We seem to be in a period of drastic change. If we look at our society as a whole, concert attendance is down, recorded classical music sales are dwindling to the disappearing point. And yet the talent level of young musicians is simply astounding, and there are many composers creating wonderful music, whether in a sort of mainstream classical mode or in other venues from film scoring to heavy metal.

One of the most interesting developments is the YouTube phenomenon. While it has certainly contributed to the difficulty of making any money as a recording artist, it has also made available music that simply couldn’t be come by as recently as 10 years ago, and to anybody anywhere in the world, however remote they may be from urban centers of culture. The ability to share a common interest, however obscure, on such a massive scale is wonderful. I have been posting video of many of my concerts for a couple of years now, and that makes the enterprise of preparing and performing that music much more rewarding. To a large extent, the works I post are otherwise available only with great difficulty, and this means that I provide a service to the composer, to the potential performer, and to interested listeners, disseminating what I find to be of great intrinsic value in hopes that others will, as well.

Q: Lastly, are you ever tempted to compose?

A: No, that has not held much interest for me. There is so much wonderful music that is rarely heard or performed. I prefer to bring those pieces to life rather than create something that is likely to be of lesser value. One has to be driven to be a successful composer. I am driven as a performer.

Review

 VILLA-LOBOS Alma Brasileira. A Lenda do Caboclo. Cirandas. Ciclo Brasileiro • Fred Sturm (pn) • (no label) Available from cdbaby (69:45)

SPANISH DANCES • Fred Sturm (pn) • (no label) (77:38)

MOMPOU Cançons i Danses Nos. 1-4. Música Calada, Book 4/22–28. TURINA Danses Gitanes. GRANADOS Spanish Dances Nos. 2, 4–6, 10, 12

SONIDOS DE NUEVA ESPAÑA • Fred Sturm (pn) • (no label) (61:43)

IBARRA Piano Sonatas Nos. 2, 3. HALFFTER Homenaje a Antonio Machado. Secuencia. MONCAYO Muros Verdes. GALINDO 7 Pieces. MONCADA Costeña

These three CDs may not offer a complete education in Spanish and Latin American piano music—obviously, the field is so vast that many more would be required to compile an audio encyclopedia—but it does give a curious listener more than a smattering of intriguing, beautiful, and viscerally exciting music, enough to whet the appetite for further exploration. Familiar composers share the spotlight with others less well-known, and there are some major discoveries among them. Villa-Lobos, of course, is the presiding genius of Latin American composers, so it’s not surprising that he rates his own CD. Although his guitar music is world-famous and forms an essential part of any classical player’s development, his piano music, although equally colorful and diverse, is not as ubiquitous. Alma Brasileira (the “Brazilian Soul” of the CD title) is a passionate, indeed soulful piece that derives much of its potency from one of Villa-Lobos’s signature devices, specifically a syncopated alternation between adjacent harmonies supporting a deeply felt melody. A Lendo do Caboclo—according to Sturm, one of the composer’s most popular pieces—is romantically tender, without Alma’s tempestuous central episode. The rest of the CD is devoted to two cycles, Cirandas and Ciclo Brasileiro. Cirandas, a collection of 16 pieces, fashions colorful vignettes from simple building blocks, the simple tunes associated with children’s circle games. These sophisticated and technically demanding evocations of childhood range from wild gaiety to wistful musings. The swirling or hammered piano figurations recall Debussy or Stravinsky, both composers Villa-Lobos would have been familiar with from his years in Paris. Ciclo Brasileiro’s tranquil, pastoral opening is followed by a bittersweet Chopinesque waltz; two toccata-like movements conclude the suite. The first’s rapidly alternating chords segue into a lovely second subject that Villa-Lobos treats inventively, allocating melody and accompaniment to the left hand, thus allowing the right to scatter delicate ornamental figures in the treble. The concluding “Dansa do Indio Branco” is a tour de force requiring stamina and rhythmic precision. Relentless ostinatos combined with a “primitive” melody create a mesmerizing effect. Some hear it as a portrait of the larger-than-life composer, elemental in his overflowing creativity.

Danzas Españolas takes its title from Granados’s popular set, beloved for its insinuating rhythms, memorable melodies, and expressive central sections. All the dances have been arranged and transcribed for guitar and are so idiomatic it can come as a surprise to learn that the originals were written for the piano. Sturm plays six of the 12, noting, “They are all matchless in capturing the essence of the Spanish character.” Turina’s Danses Gitanes is closer to flamenco and alternately light and dark in mood. Mompou’s first four Cançons i Danses (Songs and Dances) are charming miniatures based on Catalan songs and pair slow, meditative melodies with animated dances. The boisterous third dance’s pungent chords and “wrong” notes suggest a Spanish Shostakovich. In Música Callada, Mompou set himself the task of writing music that would embody the voice of silence, “in which solitude itself becomes music.” Philosophical or mystical aspirations aside, the pieces are predominantly slow, subdued in dynamics (with a few startling exceptions), melodious, and even seductive. Number 25’s atonal landscape breaks the mold and shows the composer to have been more adventurous than a casual acquaintance with his reputation would suggest.

Sonidos de Nueva España brings us works by Mexican composers. Ibarra is perhaps the most original. He’s developed a captivating individual language that’s modern, impressionistic—in my notes I wondered if his Sonata No. 2 might be a distant cousin to “Scarbo”—and exciting for its novel approach to the piano. As Sturm points out in our conversation, Ibarra transforms his chromatic figures and potentially dissonant intervals into compelling music that transcends its components. Rodolfo Halffter is the only non-native Mexican composer here, having emigrated from Spain following the Civil War. The playful first movement of his Homenaje a Antonio Machado is light in texture, slightly acerbic, and wears its modernity gracefully. A few brief Baroque measures strike an incongruous note, so much so that I wonder if Halffter was indulging in a private joke. However, since the second movement, too, has a subtle Baroque flavor, albeit intermixed with a gentle, Spanish melodiousness, perhaps that period was dear to his heart. The third movement reminds me of the slower numbers in Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, and the freely flowing fourth could be a cousin to the Sonatine. Secuencia, from a later period in Halffter’s career, is written in a personal adaptation of 12-tone technique. The music is severe, forceful, and concentrated; here and there I’m reminded of Stravinsky. There’s the same focus on short motifs, with splashes of color scattered along the way. Moncayo’s Muros Verdes’s pastoral introduction leads to slowly moving block chords, vaguely hymnlike and growing in intensity, which are succeeded by vigorous passagework and the joyously syncopated melody that brings the work to an exciting close. To my ears, Galindo, Moncayo, and Moncada share a 20th-century Mexican aesthetic; while not clones, they could be heard as part of a “school.” At first, Galindo’s Seven Pieces resembles the opening of the Moncayo, but then the second piece’s crashing chords displace any lingering reveries. Modified folkloric elements abound and lend the sometimes sharply-etched piano writing extra layers of vitality or sentimentality. Moncada’s festive Costeña bears a family resemblance to Leonard Bernstein’s “America” (from West Side Story).

Sturm plays this varied repertoire with relish, sensitivity, and an individual response to each composer. Energetic and rhythmically adroit in extroverted music, he doesn’t dawdle or break the flow in slow or languid measures but uses beautifully gauged rubatos, ritardandos, dynamics, and colorful pedaling to express the composers’ thoughts. He’s stylistically flexible, performing everything from Ibarra to Granados with finesse and fine attention to detail without imperiling the grand design. The music from the first two CDs has all been recorded before and sometimes often, but I don’t have the space to delve into detailed comparisons. Suffice it to say that Sturm’s versions deserve a place on your Spanish/Latin piano music shelf. As to Sonidos de Nueva España, here is a well-performed selection of music that’s probably new to most general listeners and that would require the purchase of four or five CDs to duplicate. If you’re interested in hearing some of what’s been happening south of the border during the latter half of the 20th century, this would be an excellent place to start. Robert Schulslaper