The Mexican composer
Manuel Ponce was born in Aguascalientes
and studied in his home town and Mexico
City before continuing his education
in Europe in 1903. He established a
good name in his homeland when in 1912
in Mexico City he premiered his Piano
Concerto. However when he tried to launch
his career in 1916 in New York's Aeolian
Hall political fate loured. It was the
same day that Pancho Villa attacked
Columbus in New Mexico. The whole of
his US tour was promptly cancelled -
Ponce as a Mexican became persona
non grata. His Concierto del
Sur for guitar and orchestra and
his Violin Concerto, taken up by Segovia
and Szeryng respectively, are well worth
seeking out. I am sure that there is
more to discover and this disc provides
yet more encouragement .
Old-fashioned his piano
music may be but it still displays great
assurance and a confident stylistic
hand. There is the elusively nostalgic
and winsome Estrellita. This
is the first of three Mexican Songs
(1911) - a call to arms for Mexican
nationalism. Osorio is suitably unhurried
and allows ‘world enough and time’ for
its slow pulse to quietly beat. Estrellita
was arranged by Heifetz and recorded
by him. Here it is heard to wonderful
effect without flashy showmanship.
There are three Estudios
de Concierto in which the hallmarks
are Liszt and Tchaikovsky. The music
is shot though with grand dances from
the ballrooms of Mexico City and with
a brazen Lisztian stormy of notes.
The Trozos Romantico
or Romantic Sketches of 1910-1911
are in keeping with the Canciones
Mexicanas, especially Estrellita
but much more prone to the vapours
and lace handkerchief sentimentality.
The Legende is
more restrained and even modestly dissonant
in much the same way as the 23rd Mazurca.
It is a querulous little piece from
which emerges romantic melodies alongside
grotesque episodes. It seems to reflect
picaresque Manfred-like adventures.
There are eight Mazurkas
here from the twenty that survived the
depredations of the Mexican insurrection.
They are gentle Chopin-like miniatures
- not especially Mexican in flavour.
Polished gems shot through with popular
dances but maybe slightly bland overall.
No. 16 has a raindrop elfin personality.
The three movement
Suite Cubana is a souvenir of
Ponce's many visits to the island. Indeed
from 1915 to 1917 he made Cuba his home
to avoid the mayhem of the revolution.
He premiered the suite in Havana in
1914. Once again popular dances pervade
this work and they do so with great
elegance and a warm smile. After two
movements that ingratiate the final
movement Paz de Ocaso suddenly
takes us on to another plane. This is
music of delicacy and spun lunar light.
It is subtle and elusive in the manner
of Sorabji and Medtner though without
quite their complexity - a highlight
The two études
for piano are from 1930 and were written
for Arthur Rubinstein. They represent
a rapprochement between the grand manner
romanticism of the late nineteenth century
and the delicate hand of impressionism.
Also in the mix are touches of the gamelan
exotic and of Prokofiev's grotesquerie.
The front cover of
the disc reproduces "Recolección
de cosecha" ("Taking in the
Harvest") by Inocencio Jiménez
Chino (Oapan, Mexico), 1994
This is a fascinating
disc and will please the adventurous
with a taste for the romantic legacy
to the twentieth century and its mediation
with nationalism and sentimentality.