> Silvestre Revueltas - Orchestral Music [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Silvestre REVUELTAS (1899 – 1940)
Sensemayá (1938)
La noche de los Mayas (1939)
La Coronela (1940)
Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra/Enrique Barrios
Recorded: Teatro Aguascalientes, Mexico, February 2001
NAXOS 8.555917 [67:25]


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Sensemayá undoubtedly is Revueltas’ most popular and best-known orchestral work. The present orchestral version was made in 1938 whereas the original 1937 version is a setting for chorus and small orchestra of a poem by Nicolás Guillén. There also is a version for chamber orchestra. The poem deals with the ritual chant performed while killing a snake and tells the story of a princess transformed by a magician into a snake, in revenge of her rejection of him. A snake hunt is set up and the snake is eventually killed by the magician. The spell is broken and the princess has her soul back. The villagers rejoice. This primitive, ritualistic tale inspired a powerfully evocative, colourfully scored work which, to a certain extent, might be regarded as some sort of Mexican Rite of Spring. The elemental forces are suggested by the hypnotic repetition of the main rhythmic gesture underlining the whole work and which is in fact the musical translation, as it were, of the purely phonetic refrain in Guillén’s poem. Stravinsky may not be very far, but the music is pure Revueltas and has a quintessential Mexican character. No wonder it became widely popular and championed by celebrated conductors such as Stokowski, Bernstein, Batiz, Mata and Salonen, to name but a few. I would now like to hear the original version for voices and small orchestra.

Revueltas composed several film scores and made some concert suites of them, such as the comparatively well known Redes. The orchestral suite of La noche de los Mayas was made by José Yves de Limantour. Both the film and the score were ambitious projects, though I must confess that I never saw the film (I wonder who has?) and thus cannot comment about the real part played by the music. In any case, Limantour did a wonderful job with what must have been a rather fragmentary score, and the result is a substantial symphonic fresco which has often been compared to the impressive Mexican mural frescos (old and new). Revueltas conjures up a fantastic sound world in accordance to his own all-embracing vision of the Maya world. Colourful scoring and powerful rhythms drive the music along, in turn menacing, violent, dreamily mysterious, at times tender, ecstatic and exalted.

The rarity here is the ballet score La Coronela, Revueltas’ last major work which he did not live long enough to complete. It was completed from the short score by Blas Galindo and orchestrated by Huizar. Some twenty years later, Limantour made a new arrangement for a new orchestration by Moncada. For the last episode, he included some music from scores written by Revueltas for two films about the Mexican Revolution. The notes do not say much about the dramatic content of the libretto by Falkenstein, except that it deals with Mexican life at the beginning of the 20th Century and is inspired by, or at least based on, paintings by José Guadalupe Posada. The music is again very fine, vintage Revueltas and deeply Mexican in feeling, with nevertheless more than one touch of sarcastic humour and irony such as the allusion to The Last Post in the fourth section The Last Judgement. This is a worthwhile addition to Revueltas’ discography though it has already been recorded at least once before (KOCH 3-7421-2 which I have not heard).

There are many fine versions of Sensemayá and of La noche de los Mayas, but the present readings are, to my mind, excellent, though I found that of Sensemayá a bit cautious, but remarkably well recorded (some details of orchestration are particularly clearly heard here). However, Barrios has a real feeling for the music and conducts committed readings of these superb scores by Mexico’s greatest composer. I now sincerely hope that this release will be the first of a complete recording of Revueltas’ orchestral music, for there are still several half-forgotten scores that definitely deserve to be re-appraised. Recommended, particularly so for the inclusion of the rarely heard ballet La Coronela.

Hubert Culot


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