An exquisite, passionate and rhythmically eclectic on a deeply grounded yet truly celestial level, Cuban Sketches for Piano is a solo piano album that for many will serve as a testament to the enduring legacy and still strong creativity of a legendary Cuban composer (Leo Brouwer) and an introduction to a highly accomplished pianist, composer and acclaimed educator (Mariel Mayz).
One of the most unique aspects of this 15 piece collection – which incorporates Mayz’ dynamic performances of world premieres of two multi-part Brouwer pieces – is the fact that the 83 year old composer (whom some call a modern day Mozart) is mostly known for his guitar compositions. Also intriguing is the fact that the first ten compositions (collectively known as Diez Bocetos) were written between 1961-2007 and have never been recorded until now.
So as to distinguish between, say “Boceto No. 1” and “Boceto No. 2,” each piece is subtitled for a notable Cuban visual artist – Raul Millian, Rene Portocarrero, etc. Had Mayz only played these emotionally expressive gems, they collectively would have made for a spending album. Though these can be appreciated in the order they track in, a meaningful entry point that helps illuminate both the graceful sensitivity and explosive percussiveness of Mayz’ style is “Boceto No. 3: Nelson Dominguez,” which begins with impressionistic tranquility before exploding into bursts of hard chords and darting sprays of high end sunlight before reverting to a darker sense of melancholy.
Equally engaging are the tension filled percussive spurts at the start of “Boceto No. 7: Cabrera Moreno” (which features similar dynamics as No. 3) and the gentle contemplation of “Boceto No.8: Fabelo.” Following these Bocetos is a 12 and a half minute, multi-movement piece (“Variations on a Theme by Brouwer”) which showcases Mayz’s equally dazzling skills as a composer; the piece is based on Brouwer’s melancholic theme from the 1972 film “Dia De Noviembre” by Cuban director Humberto Solas.
The next three pieces (collectively, Nuevos Bocetos Para Piano) are recent, equally adventurous and mood swinging compositions by Brouwer which he sent to Mayz in 2022. The winsome set concludes with “An Idea: Passacaglia for Bill,” a dramatic ballad Brouwer wrote in 1999 for the 75th birthday of Canadian guitarist Eli Kassner. Another exquisite example of the sensitive side of Mayz’s artistry, it has become a staple of her live concerts.