Don't think for one
moment that just because Chavez is a
Mexican his music will be alive with
the sort of nationalistic colour we
derive from Copland's El Salón
Mexico. His music is tougher than
The First Symphony
is adapted from incidental music
he wrote for an intended stage Jean
Cocteau's Antigone. It is Stravinskian;
harsh with a mix of Greek modes and
raw Indian material. There are some
moments of remission. It's a compact
symphonic statement. The harshness of
Antigone carries over into the
even more imposing and poignant Third
Symphony with its brilliant, bounding
and galloping allegro. This is followed
by a scherzo with a wind solo-dominated
introduction. Petrushka and Prokofiev
are very much to the fore. It is most
beautifully played and recorded. The
finale returns to intimations of the
chasm and of catastrophe. There is little
consolation or reassurance in this music;
only the promise of seething violence.
The Sinfonia Romantica
was a Louisville commission and the
composer conducted that orchestra in
the premiere on 4 February 1953. This
single movement work uses music soaked
in the kindly warmth of summer. It is
quite unlike its harsh companions. Its
romanticism is the stuff of Copland
and Randall Thompson and this does not
exclude some explosive and grittily-recorded
moments. At the end there is a whirlwind
of general celebration all delivered
with deafening confidence.
is another work of chattering
action. It rattles and rasps with native
percussion instrumentation. It work
was completed on a trip to New York.
This is the closest Chavez came amongst
his symphonies to the jungle power of
Villa-Lobos. The symphony ends in another
vehement and exuberant assault.
Fifth Symphony for
strings is a big-boned lanky work for
a massed string orchestra. The music
is exhilarating and fulsome and can
be loosely corralled with the Fifth
symphonies of Persichetti and Schuman.
Think also of Ginastera's Concerto for
Strings. Unusually for Chavez it even
radiates some humour as shown by the
trudging double bass pace [12:17]. some
commentators have this down as a neo-classical
work; not to these ears. It in fact
leans towards a lean romanticism - almost
Barber-lite. The glassy stratospheric
cycling iteration of the violins is
both memorable and affecting. I must
concede that the pounce and dynamism
of the allegro con brio is neo-classical.
It does however plumb more emotive depths
and comes to resemble the gambolling
and cavorting of Herrmann's and Waxman's
sinfoniettas for strings. The work ends
in a spasm of energy. Once again this
is most resonantly recorded.
The Sixth Symphony
was written between 1961 and 1963.
The premiere was given by Bernstein
with the NYPO on 7 May 1964. The Chavez
trademarks are now much more evident.
His gruffly assertive brass contrast
with coursing lightning-fast strings.
The adagio central movement alternates
Bergian ambivalence in the singing strings
with a suavely blooming chorale carried
by the penitent and respectful brass.
The finale is a Passacaglia con anima:
43 variations on a six bar subject.
It is the biggest of the six at approaching
35 minutes and at its roaring peroration
reveals one of the finest moments in
twentieth century music; comparable
in greatness with the rolling alleluias
of Rosenberg’s Fourth Symphony and the
crooning tragic melancholy of Pettersson
7. That long Chavez finale does however
have some Brahmsian longueurs but its
leave-taking has you forgiving all.
Chavez declared this work to be a symphony
he had written ‘within classic limitations’.
The recordings were
produced by Harold Lawrence and Bob
Auger; red and vibrant in tooth and
The notes are by the
composer Julian Orbón and by
Gloria Carmona. They could hardly be
more detailed and only let us down in
giving us very little biographical background
on the composer and denying us the dates
of these resolutely twentieth century
An impressive clutch
of serious and vigorously-driven symphonies
from Mexico. They are resoundingly recorded.
Shame about the double-width box but
celebrate the bargain price tag.