Mi Alma Mexicana (My Mexican Soul)
CD 1
José Pablo MONCAYO (1912-1958)
Huapango (1941) [8:18]
Gustavo E. CAMPA (1863-1934)
Mélodie pour violon et orchestre, Op. 1 (1890) [5:25]
Ricardo CASTRO (1864-1907)
Intermezzo de Atzimba (1900) [5:02]
Candelario HUÍZAR (1882-1970)
Imágenes (1927) [16:46]
Manuel M. PONCE (1882-1948)
Concierto del Sur para guitarra y orquesta (1941) [26:04]
Juventino ROSAS (1868-1894)
Sobre las olas (arr. Ljova) (1884) [4:39]
CD 2
Arturo MÁRQUEZ (b. 1950)
Danzón 2 (1994) [9:26]
Silvestre REVUELTAS (1899-1940)
Sensemayá (1938) [6:37]
Carlos CHÁVEZ (1899-1978)
El Trópico (from H. P. Suite) (1954) [7:31]
Federico IBARRA (b. 1946)
Sinfonía No. 2: Las antesalas del sueño (1993) [9:38]
Eugenio TOUSSAINT (b. 1954)
Concierto para piano improvisado y orquesta: II Largo (2006) [6:54]
Mario LAVISTA (b. 1943)
Clepsydra (1990) [10:37]
Enrico CHAPELA (b. 1974)
ínguesu (2003) [8:54]
Daniel Andai (violin) (Campa); Pablo Sáinz Villegas (guitar) (Ponce); Alex
Brown (piano) (Toussaint); Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas/Alondra de la Parra
rec. Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York, 28 January-1 February 2010
SONY CLASSICAL 88697755552 [66:14 + 59:37]
At first glance this may seem like Mexico’s answer to Gustavo Dudamel, with conductor Alondra de la Parra both young and attractive. However, she was born in New York City in 1980 and moved to Mexico at age two. She started on piano and cello and knew she wanted to be a conductor from age thirteen. She went to England at fifteen to attend boarding school and study music there, returning to Mexico to study composition. She moved back to New York City at age nineteen to attend the Manhattan School of Music.
De la Parra founded the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas (POA) in 2004. Unlike the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, the musicians of the POA come from twenty-two different countries; the majority of them are under the age of 35. The orchestra tours Mexico frequently and has given concerts in a number of U.S. cities. One thing the POA has in common with the Venezuelan organization is its arts and education program for underprivileged youth. Based on this recording, the POA is one impressive group of musicians.
The occasion for this two-disc set was the bicentennial of Mexico’s independence. As de la Parra writes in her note to the CD, she researched Mexico’s musical heritage and selected works from diverse periods of the country’s history. Her aim was to select short works that would represent contrasting musical styles. For the most part, the selections are not well known to most listeners. However, she also included several staples of the Mexican orchestral repertoire, such as, Revueltas’ Sensemayá and Moncayo’s Huapango, the latter often described as Mexico’s second national anthem.
As a program the selections work well and provide enough variety to hold one’s attention. It was a good idea to represent Chávez with something other than Sinfonía india, though the movement El Trópico from Caballos de Vapor (“Horse Power”) suite does not maintain the same level of interest as Sinfonía india. One of the composer’s other symphonies could have been selected instead. As far as Revueltas is concerned, it might have been better to choose a different work, too, since Sensemayá seems to appear on almost every CD of Latin American music. On the other hand, it may very well be the highlight of the current program because it is so original and memorable. My introduction to the work came via Leonard Bernstein’s recording of Latin-American music in the early 1960s. To my knowledge there has never been a more exciting rendition of this piece, although this one comes closer than any of the others I know, including Dudamel, Tilson Thomas, and especially Salonen - the last named on an excellent all-Revueltas CD. Bernstein’s tempo is slightly faster than the fastest of the others, but it is the way he builds the work that is so exciting. It concerns the savage ritual of killing a snake. It has been compared to the Rite of Spring, but to my ears does not sound Stravinskyan, except that it’s very rhythmic like the Stravinsky ballet. The work on the CD that does remind me of Stravinsky (Firebird), is Lavista’s Clepsydra of 1990. De la Parra’s rendition of Sensemayá is powerful and has the best audio of the five versions I compared. Next to hers, Salonen’s sounds particularly tepid.
Of the other works, the most familiar, in addition to Moncayo’s Huapango, are Rosas’ Sobre las olas (“Over the Waves), Ponce’s Concierto del Sur, and Márquez’ Danzón 2. Huapango is always a delight, especially as performed here. The Rosas piece is Mexico’s answer to Johann Strauss, Jr. and one of those waltzes that is so familiar you don’t remember where or when you first heard it! Once heard, it’s hard to get it out of your head. Márquez’s Danzón 2, the most recent of these works to gain popularity, has a special Mexican flavor with its folk rhythm and memorable melody. Featuring a piano as part of the orchestral fabric it receives a stunning performance here, though I still prefer, by a small margin, Dudamel’s slightly freer rendition on his Fiesta disc (DG).
Of the concerted works on the CD, Ponce’s Guitar Concerto is the most substantial. Its composer’s most famous work is Estrellita. The Concerto is light and pleasant and makes a nice change from the more usual Rodrigo or Giuliani works. It also is performed very well here. The other two works with soloists did not leave much of an impression on me. The largo movement from the Toussaint piano concerto sounds as if it would make good background music in a nightclub. Only one movement of the work is on the CD, so it’s difficult to judge the piece as a whole. Campa’s Mélodie pour violon et orchestre is romantic and rather clichéd, as is Castro’s well-orchestrated Intermezzo de Atzimba.
Four more “serious” works make up the remainder of the disc. They all try to make an important statement and some succeed better than others. The first of these, Huízar’s Imágenes, is the longest and begins atmospherically with winds predominant and much chirping by the flutes. This leads to a march-like section with trombones taking over and then strings, followed by bassoon chords leading to a slow section with a beautiful English horn solo. Another lyrical theme is introduced by the strings and then a much more rhythmic section, at first loud and then quieter with woodwinds and strings - a particularly Mexican folk-like episode. It meanders a bit before the work concludes with a loud Mexican dance for the full orchestra. While the work as a whole maintains enough interest, it seems rather long and disjointed. In contrast, Ibarra’s Sinfonía No. 2: Las antesalas del sueño (“The Anterooms of Dreams”) is much more compact in a single movement that is predominantly dark in color and atmosphere. It begins with piano chords - heavy with foreboding - in unison with strings, brass and percussion underpinning. The piece becomes lighter but also remains very mysterious in its string dominated texture with woodwind and percussion flourishes. Later it is powerful and rhythmic with much lower brass and heavy percussion. It ends somewhat suddenly. A powerful impression is made, though more for its sound than its substance.
Of the last two works on the CD, Clepsydra by Lavistra is the more interesting. The title refers to water clocks and reminds me at times of early Stravinsky, but at others of Takemitsu. It boasts its own brand of impressionism. The composer wrote it as a commission from the San Antonio Symphony to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the discovery of the San Antonio River. It is generally slow and quiet in comparison with most of the music on this disc and impressed me with its substance. I would like to hear more from this composer. The last work, composed as recently as 2003, also shows some promise for its composer Enrico Chapela, born in 1974. The title of the work ínguesu refers to an obscenity that is yelled out by Mexican football fans. The occasion for the work’s composition was a celebrated Mexico vs. Brazil soccer match that took place in August 1999.The work is very colorful with lots of percussion and brass. It even has the conductor portray the referee with its use of a whistle. In some ways, it reminds me of Revueltas, but also of Bernstein’s West Side Story dances. It makes a strong impression on first hearing, but I doubt it will have real staying power.
The CDs are accompanied by a substantial booklet in English and Spanish containing an introduction by Alondra de la Parra, photos of the conductor and orchestra, a complete list of the orchestra personnel (with a noticeable paucity of Hispanic names!), as well as the usual biographical information on the conductor, soloists, and history of the orchestra. More detailed information on each composer and the works represented would have added value. Also, there are questionable dates listed for two of the compositions. The Chávez work is listed as from 1954, but from research I found that he composed the H.P. Suite in 1926-27. The El Trópico movement could be a later arrangement, but there is no mention made of this in the booklet. Mario Lavista is quoted in the booklet as having composed Clepsydra in 1991, but on the back the date is given as 1990.
As I have indicated above, the performances are terrific as is the recorded sound. This disc will not replace Dudamel’s Fiesta in my affection, nor should it, but it can join it as an excellent example of the variety in Latin American music. As a further sweetener, the two-disc set is being sold at a reduced price.
Leslie Wright 

An excellent example of the variety in Mexican music.