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Julián CARRILLO (1875–1965)
Orchestral Works
Primera Sinfonia en Re Mayor (D major) (1901) [32:57]
Tema con Variaciones para Orquesta, Op. 2 (1899) [14:04]
Primera Suite para Orquesta, Op. 1 (1896-99) [15:33]
Orquesta Sinfónica de San Luis Potosi/José Miramontes Zapata
rec. Teatro de la Paz, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, 29, 31 Jan 2015
STERLING CDS1107-2 [62:48]

Carrillo, in his maturity, was a sound pioneer and experimentalist but there's none of that here. These three works from his twenties show him in almost complete and masterly subjugation to German late-romanticism with only the occasional flicker of Mexican 'local colour'. For comparison think in terms of pre-Great War Frank Bridge and 1940s Elliott Carter, both composers who made a break with their early styles.

This Mexican composer was, in later life - from the 1920s onwards - recognised as one whose interests centred on the mathematical aspects of music structure. He sought "ideological unity and tonal diversity". While in New York during the Great War he wrote an essay on what he termed the "Thirteenth Sound Theory" a concept which we are told was to grip his music and reputation. His music studies began in earnest in the mid-1880s in San Luis Potosí, the city which is the home of the orchestra that made this recording. The studies continued in Mexico City where he caught the attention of Porfirio Díaz, President of Mexico. Díaz became his benefactor and supported him in many ways including funding his studies in Leipzig with Jadassohn. The symphony heard here bears a dedication to Díaz. The three works here date from the early German period. There's nothing here that feels ground-breaking. On the other hand the music proclaims confidence if not dazzling reserves of invention.

In 1916 Carrillo composed music for the D.W. Griffith film, Intolerance. In Mexico he accrued a long list of students but political turbulence caused him to take refuge in the USA. There the American Symphony Orchestra gave his First Symphony in New York. Returning to Mexico in 1918 he headed the National Symphony Orchestra where he introduced the country to many scores from the now standard repertoire as well as various works by Mexican composers including Manuel Ponce. As a composer he was by now experimenting with microtonal works including the Stokowski-commissioned Concertino. In the 1950s Stokowski performed Horizontes: Poema sinfónico, a Symphonic Poem for violin, cello and harp in quarter- eighth- and sixteenth-tones. During the 1960s there were two violin concertos in quarter-tones. The indispensable booklet, packed with background in Spanish and English includes a 1958 photo in which Carrillo is pictured with Alois Hába.

This is not the First Symphony's premiere recording: in fact the composer recorded it with the Lamoureux Orchestra for Philips. This four-movement work opens and closes in sturdily imposing tones. The first movement Largo has the occasional speckle of Latin-American flavouring. There's a nicely tempered serene Andante followed by a delicately skipping Scherzo which is not short on Brahmsian charm. This is a deliberately momentous score in a style that variously recalls the symphonies of Stanford, Cliffe, Huber, Rubinstein and Børresen. As for the good-humoured Tema con Variaciones - sensibly one track per variation - it stays on the same course with a flighty Allegretto and a Carmen-indebted Andantino. Carrillo plies a nice line in Polish dignity in the final Tempo di Polonesa. The Suite is a more frothy confection reminiscent of Massenet and the light music of John Foulds. Listen to the stagy grandiloquence of the last movement and the flitter, flutter and flounce of the 'Palm Court' Valse with its slight Latino accent. The sound is very respectable. The spirit brought to this music is full of life and dignity and while the strings might have sounded a shade more lush this feels like a good representation of music otherwise pretty much unknown.

Sterling have previously collaborated with the San Luis Potosi orchestra and José Miramontes Zapata over several characteristic recordings projects: Ricardo Castro, Manuel Ponce and Woldemar Bargiel. This Carrillo volume with its nineteenth century modes and manners fits very nicely into this Swedish label's 'Mexican Romantics' series.

Thanks to Sterling and their Mexican allies for documenting Carillo's earlier years. It's prime territory for this label. The way is now open to introducing some of the no doubt very different music of the period from the 1920s onwards. That honour will surely fall to another label.

Rob Barnett



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