Inspired by the bicentennial of Mexico's independence, Alondra de la Parra prepared her survey of Mexican orchestral music after two years of research, in the belief that "Mexican orchestral music deserves a place in every orchestra's core repertoire." She has stated four artistic goals in presenting these musical selections on two CDs: diversity of period; contrast in styles; unfamiliar works by renowned composers; and brevity of selections to maximize what can fit on a two disc release.
I need to confess at the outset that only one of these twelve composers was in the least known to me before hearing these works – Carlos Chavez, the good friend of Aaron Copland – so I checked ArkivMusic to see how much of their music is currently available in recordings. Half of them are represented in anthologies such as this and two of them only on this release. At the other extreme, Manuel Ponce's music can be heard on 219 recordings; that of Revueltas on 42, including seven just of his music; Chavez on 40, including eight featuring his music. Huizar is on only two, but one of those releases contains four symphonies by him. In any event I have approached these recordings with fresh ears and open mind. And let me add that de la Parra herself made many discoveries of nearly unknown works in the course of her investigations.
These are exciting works. Most have immediate appeal. They are also quite varied in character, as one would expect of works composed over such a long span of time. Much of the excitement comes from the fact that Mexican composers seem more inclined to emphasize the element of rhythm than European composers typically do. Stylistically, they range from Rosas' waltz, Campa's slow and gentle Melodie pour violon, and Castro's quietly beautiful Intermezzo, from 1884, 1890, and 1901 respectively; to the 1938 piece by Revueltas, which is modern with rhythms beginning as a heavy tread and developing into jagged rhythms reminiscent of Stravinsky's Sacre du printemps; and the very modern piece by Chavez, which has even more complex rhythms. The opening number on the first disk here, Huapango (of which there are eight other recordings currently, by the way) has wonderful, powerful, swinging rhythms reinforced by brass, winds and percussion; it would make a rousing concert-opener anywhere.
Three of the most substantial works here – certainly in terms of length – are Ponce's guitar concerto (1941), commisioned by Andres Segovia; Huizar's Imagines; and Lavistra's Clepsydra, a one movement symphony commissioned by the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra. Ponce, whose songs are well known in Mexico, wrote his guitar concerto with orchestral accompaniment that is light enough not to overwhelm the sound of the guitar. It is in the conventional three movements, with the first two quite moderately paced. I found the Andante appealing both melodically and rhythmically and the finale is delightful.
Huizar's Imagenes (1927) varies in character and theme, with a slow, tinkly opening followed by a bird-like flute over the lower strings and a nice oboe solo. The pace and dynamics pick up before a march that is loud and skipping, with brass, then is solemn, with another oboe solo. Things become heavier, and perhaps ominous, before yielding to light and lively music for woodwinds, with light percussion accompaniment.
Lavista's Clepsydra (1990) is a piece that interests me quite a lot and particularly repays repeated listening. It is somewhat reminiscent of music by the French Impressionists to my ears. It is quiet, beautifully orchestrated, and slowly flowing. (As it happens it is meant to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the discovery of the San Antonio River.) An ostinato chiming accompanies the flow for a time. High notes predominate.
In complete contrast, Ibarra's Sinfonia #2 (1993), also in a single movement, is inspired by surrealism, and is subtitled "las antesalas del sũeno" or "the anterooms of dreams." Ominous pounding is accompanied by a bass clarinet melody and instruments in a much higher register. A flute flutters, a gong sounds, and after a quiet interlude the music becomes savage for the final three minutes, the dream evidently having become a nightmare.
Even more disorderly is Chapela's Inguesu. The title is a Mexican obscenity and the work was inspired by the foul language of soccer fans at a Mexico-Brazil match and it is a commentary – surely ironic – on nationalistic pride. The notes say that Mexico is represented by the woodwinds, Brazil with the brass, the benches by percussion, the crowd by the strings and the referee by the conductor. A whistle is heard to repeat, presumably blown by Alondra de la Parra. Rhythms are bouncy. Although proceedings may be rowdy, mercifully not everybody shouts at once.
Other pieces here include Marquez' Danzon 2 (1994), inspired by pop music and very popular in Mexico; it includes some jagged rhythms. The piano concerto (2006) by Toussaint (who is known for jazz) is represented here, unfortunately only by its largo movement, which is quiet but pleasant.
Most of the works are published, variously by Presser, Schirmer and Boosey & Hawkes. A few of these pieces are appropriate for pop concerts. Others are complex and serious enough for classics series. All are worthy of attention and this collection is firmly recommended.
Copyright © 2010, R. James Tobin