Those swept up by the tsunami-like marketing of Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela - particularly their big-selling 'Fiesta!' album (Deutsche Grammophon 4777457) - will thrill at this journey through 'Latin American Classics'. Not simply because the programme is similar - the works by Márquez and Ginastera indeed appearing on both discs - but perhaps also unwittingly, inasmuch as the Venezuelan Symphony Orchestra, with its long and rather illustrious history, is actually a more stylish outfit than the now-subsumed SBYOV. Conductor Theodore Kuchar too, though clearly not as charismatic as Dudamel, has two decades' more conducting experience. This he brings to bear here to produce a disciplined yet blistering reading of these kaleidoscopically memorable works.
Moncayo's Huapango and Márquez's Danzón no.2 excepted, these may not quite be the Latin American classics promised by the album cover: no string quartets by Villa-Lobos, concertos by Guarnieri, guitar works by Ponce or songs by Guastavino on the recording, for example. The programme also avoids the 'Aztecan' darker tones of works like Revueltas's Cuauhnácuac or Villa-Lobos's Uirapurú - this latter recently recorded, incidentally, by the newly-minted Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra under Eduardo Mata alongside Ginastera's Estancia suite and Chávez's terrific Horse Power Suite on an excellent Dorian disc (DOR90211). Yet these items are no mere Mexican Hat Dances or musical Cucurachas. On the contrary, they offer not only an entertaining riot of Central and South American rhythms and colours from start to finish, but are expertly and imaginatively orchestrated, well structured works that would slot in nicely alongside any more 'serious' repertoire on a concert programme.
Thanks to Dudamel and the SBYOV, Márquez's Danzón no.2 has become quite well known in recent years, and deservedly so - though very audience-friendly, it is much more sophisticated than its title suggests. The OSV under Kuchar have this music in their blood every bit as much as the SBYOV, but where the latter sometimes threaten to slip into the mannerisms of vernacular music, the OSV keep it clean, allowing listeners to marvel at Márquez's almost genius-level appropriation of traditional idioms for the cause of art music. Unfortunately, the composers other similar-sounding Danzones have been unjustly neglected because of it, the odd recording here and there apart. No one wishing to delve a bit further into Latin-American music will be disappointed by them - far from it. Alternatively, any works by Revueltas, Ginastera or Moncayo - who deserves to be known as much more than the composer of Huapango - would make an excellent starting place for an unforgettable journey.
Meanwhile, for the price of no more than a couple of gallons of kerosene, the cosmopolitan traveller can enjoy this terrific programme of high-octane, frequently spectacular nationalism. Sound quality is very good to boot, and the slim-but-informative booklet offers some timely pre-departure background.
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