Manuel M. PONCE (1882-1948)
Ferial - Divertimento sinfónico (1940) [14:46]
Piano Concerto No.1 Romantico (1910-11) [20:55]
Piano Concerto No.2 Unfinished (1947) [10:52]
Preludios encadenados (1927) [7:27]
Cuatro danzas mexicanas (1941) [6:18]
Rodolfo Ritter (piano)
Orquesta Sinfónica de San Luis Potosi/Zaeth Ritter
rec. Teatro de la Paz, San Luis Potosi, 14 Dec 2012. DDD
STERLING CDS1102-2 [60:26]

With this disc Sterling, heroes of the romantic repertoire, launched their Mexican series. After all Ponce - beyond the guitar solos - has not been widely recorded except in the case of his one-hit wonder, Estrellita. He figured in ASV's Musica Mexicana which later appeared in a highly desirable Brilliant Classics box. One disc in that set was all orchestral Ponce and only overlaps the present one in the case of the First Piano Concerto. On that occasion the sound might have glared but the concerto did not suffer unduly. I commented at the time on its habitation of "the gleamingly romantic conservative tradition of Liszt, Chopin and Arensky. Thunder and screes of pearly notes are thrown hither and yon by the impassioned Jorge Federico Osorio."

The present release is fashioned around two piano concertos, one of these being incomplete (just two movements) and not previously recorded, at least not commercially and probably not at all. Add to this a splendid orchestral display piece and two unobstructed and instantly engaging folk-influenced piano works.

Ferial - dedicated "To Mexico", runs to nearly fifteen minutes. It can also be found in that Musica Mexicana set. It is a lividly lit, although still subtle, counterpart to Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole. The music is easy to take on board being dreamy at times and lightly exotic but never cheesy. The composer's aspirations, lying between entertainment and symphonic momentum, are apparent in the subtitle, Divertimento sinfónico. It is at times a folksy piece with startling stylistic links with the Moeran Sinfonietta and at one point (12:50) the RVW March of the Kitchen Utensils. Ponce embraced the romantic early in his career which is obvious from the First Piano Concerto. This is very traditional music, with its lush orchestral and pianistic writing. He was to become more influenced by folk music as the years passed. A dreamlike second movement (Andantino amoroso - Allegretto - Allegro come prima) follows a stormy first (Allegro appassionato). It's all grand and very colourful. At times it made me think of the lushly dripping pages of the Marx Piano Concerto. It ends in an Allegro that is grand and showy. Of the Piano Concerto No.2 we have only an Allegro non troppo and a Largo. This may be more modern but in no sense is it avant-garde. The textures are cleaner but the same temperament is at work as in the First Concerto. What's the betting someone will do a 'completion' or 'realisation' at some point? Finally we hear some colourfully entertaining, gawky, Poulenc-like piano pieces: Preludios encadenados and Cuatro danzas mexicanas. Performances throughout are enthusiastic and the recording is bright and forward. These recordings were made live in concert with applause.

The disc comes with a princely 18 pages of notes. The whole thing is something of a Ritter affair with Rodolfo Ritter the pianist and executive producer, Zaeth Ritter the conductor and the cover picture being by Julian Ritter (1909-2000).

Do try Ponce's Concierto del Sur (Guitar Concerto) from Alfonso Moreno (ASV) or John Williams (CBS-Sony). This work was written for Segovia. Not as commonly known is that Ponce was working on a Quartet for guitar and strings for Segovia at the time of his death.

A convenient and enjoyably accessible celebration of the music of Manual Ponce.

Rob Barnett

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