"The old Conservatory [of Music] was dying from its tradition, from its moths and from its glorious sadness," wrote Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940), who took a teaching position there shortly after friend and fellow composer Carlos Chávez assumed its directorship. A simple statement like that paints a fairly good picture of Revueltas the man and the composer. He was an iconoclast, a poet, and a man with a wicked sense of humor.
The humor comes right to the fore in music such as the two Little Serious Pieces. They are about as serious as Bugs Bunny cartoons, which, in fact, they could serve as soundtracks to. Revueltas had a special love for giving his melodies to the tuba, which then would have to puff agilely like a ballerina unaware of the festoons of flab that had mysteriously appeared overnight. And what better accompaniment for the tuba than a perky piccolo? To continue the cartoon analogy, it sounds like a duet between the big dumb dog and the little smart one. Another chamber work, the Homenaje a Federico García Lorca, seems to be teasing traditional Mexican music with its droll scoring and its insistent melodies, which have a bizarrely reconstituted quality.
It's not all fun and games in the land of Silvestre Revueltas. Sensemayá, his most famous work, is a long orchestral crescendo with a powerful climax; it's like the evil Mexican cousin of Ravel's Boléro. Ventanas (Windows) exhibits similarly primitivistic tendencies as it slams faux folk tunes up against each other and a brusque orchestra. La Noche De Los Mayas is a violently colorful suite based on one of the last works – a film score – that the composer completed before he literally drank himself to death. Revueltas's active period as a composer was so short – about 15 years. What he might have accomplished had he lived longer! In even the brief time available to him he established himself as a sort of Mexican Stravinsky.
Much, if not all, of this music has been recorded before, but Salonen's performances seem definitive to me. They have more passion and rhythmic bite than competing versions conducted by Mata and Bernstein. Furthermore, Salonen's disc presents the most complete picture of the composer yet, and it has been blessed with impressive sound courtesy of engineer Richard King. It was recorded in Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in March of last year.
This is highly stimulating music, done with real flair by Salonen and his L.A. musicians.
Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle