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Serenata Mexicana
Alejandro BASULTO (b.1984)
Paqueña Serenata Ranchera for strings (2018) [13.51]
Jig Variations for guitar and chamber orchestra (2016) [13.18]
Arturo MÁRQUEZ (b.1950)
Dibujos sobre un puerto for tenor and harp (2001) [10.10]
Máscaras for harp and chamber orchestra (1998-1999) [25.26]
David Curtis (conductor)
Morgan Szymanski (guitar)
Jamie MacDougall (tenor)
Gabriella Dall’Olio (harp)
Shakespeare Sinfonia
rec. 2018, Saint Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London

This is one of those instantly appealing recordings, and one which will give great pleasure. Its release marks the 75th anniversary of the Anglo Mexican Foundation, who also commissioned the first three pieces on the disc. The Shakespeare Sinfonia is also making its debut here. It was formed by David Curtis at the invitation of Anglo Arts to make this recording, and is a mixture of postgraduate music school students and freelance musicians – and, on this evidence, a highly competent group of players. The only Mexican-born musician on the disc is Morgan Szymanski, but much of his work and study have been based in the United Kingdom.

The first pieces are by the young Alejandro Basulto. His music is attractive, and in some ways might have been composed at any time in the last century. His Paqueña Serenata Ranchera for strings flirts with atonality, mainly in the first movement, but reveals a strong lyrical gift and a sense of forward movement. It is an overtly programmatic piece, with the focus on a woman’s reaction to macho approaches in love. I found I quickly put the narrative out of mind, concentrating instead on the way the piece was shaped. Basulto has a keen ear for string sonorities, and a confidence in technique.

The inspiration for Jig Variations was William Kempe’s famous journey in 1600 from London to Norwich, morris-dancing for much the way. The journey was devised as something of a publicity stunt, and he seems to have been well-received as he went. He wrote a book describing his journey (Kemp’s nine daies wonder). Basulto re-imagines this as taking place in Mexico, but there are nods along the way, notably in the initial theme, to Elizabethan style. None of the 12 tiny movements outstays its welcome, and one could imagine many of its notable ideas developed at greater length. After the theme, there are nine variations, each in a different dance form, before a final cadenza and 20 second quick finale. It is all great fun with some darker moments.

Arturo Márquez is a very lyrical composer, traditional – even conservative - in style and immediately engaging. Dibujos sobre un puerto (‘Sketches above a harbour’) sets six poems by José Gorostoza (1901-1973). The six poems are all brief (texts and translations are provided, together with Márquez’ commentary). They make a satisfying cycle. The mood is generally elegiac, despite moments of tension. Jamie MacDougall’s performance is similarly gentle, recognising well both mood and the eloquence of simplicity.

Máscaras, a four-movement concerto, is the one piece not commissioned by the Anglo Mexican Foundation. It has a programmatic element, as it was inspired by cultural and political events. Chiapas Indians rose in 1994 seeking just treatment. Máscaras are masks. The first movement, Máscaras flor (‘Mask Flower’) commemorates infants killed in Acteal in 1997, when 45 members of a pacifist group were killed by a paramilitary band called Máscara Roja. In the same year, a little Chiapas girl told the composer of her attachment to a flower as representative of nature.

The second movement, Máscara Son is a reflective piece, with a hint of defiance and optimism. Son refers to a genre of Mexican folk dance and music, often performed by small bands of strings and percussion. The third movement again picks up the theme of the dance – as performed in San Juan de Letrán, a street in Mexico City, once known for its strong musical tradition. The final movement, La Pasión según Marcos, was inspired by a text by a rebel leader, when he rejected President Salinas’s pardon to the rebels in 1994. Again, the music transcends the original inspirational events. We have a most attractive concerto, lovingly played by Gabriella Dall’Olio, one to which I look forward to returning.

Congratulations are due to all involved in making this recording possible. I hope it will be the first of a series.

Michael Wilkinson

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