Revueltas hailed from Mexico as a child prodigy and, in the early years of
this century, moved to Chicago where he survived Al Capone but not the booze.
He was assistant conductor of the Mexico Symphony Orchestra for six years
and his last three years he spent travelling Europe and he supported the
Spanish Civil War. He suffered spells of mental illness and was dead by 40.
He was a nationalist composer reflecting his country's folk music and song.
The rhythm and sharpness of his music reflects the sounds that local villagers
produce with their small discordant bands of instruments, as found in any
The present album appears to be a compilation of from earlier BMG sources
with three orchestras and conductors. The earliest is from 1975 but the sound
on all is stunning. If you are at all aware of this composer's work it will
be Sensemayá which is based on Nicolas Guillen's poem describing
a ritual dance used during the killing of snakes, here presented in its later
scoring for 27 wind instruments and 14 percussion instruments.. This was
taken up by Leonard Bernstein and a recording released in the UK in 1964.
This opens with soft gong strokes, a stomping Latino-indian dance rhythm
and distant calls imitating the sort of sound that comes from a conch shell.
Trumpets and trombones enter, followed by chugging strings as the dance becomes
more and more frenzied. Great stuff!
This is performed by the New Philharmonia conducted by Eduardo Mata who also
opens the disc with Homenaje a Frederico Garcia Lorca written in 1937,
in memoriam. It has a most peculiar construction - a short arpeggio on piano,
a haunting lament on trumpet and then a chirruping piccolo leading full tilt
into a rude dance rhythm with sneering trumpets and discordant trombones
cocking a snook. Similar episodes alternate; trumpet lament again and a more
sorrowing, dragging dance rhythm; then Mexican Tijuana rhythms leading to
an energetic conclusion.
The London Sinfonietta conducted by David Atherton then takes centre stage
with four shorter pieces for small ensemble. Ocho X Radio was written
for a radio play and is a short chamber piece for eight instruments with
a lovely central swaying section. Toccata is a short ,vigourous piece
played furiuosly, reminiscent of neo-classical Stravinsky. Alcancias
is in three movements, the central one slow and lyrical the outer being more
vigourous. Tim Page ( Executive Producer for Catalyst and obvious Revueltas
enthusiast) declares that these sound like El Salón México
on mescal. The final piece is Planos which I mistook for pianos,
particularly as a piano plays the central role in the opening which is both
hesitant but expectant. In fact planos means planes or layers.
The final work is La noche de los Mayas played by Orquesta Sinfónica
de Jalapa conducted by Luis Herrera de la Fuente. It is a suite in four movements
drawn from the film of the same name. No details of the film are given by
Tim Page. The opening movement (La noche de los mayas) has more than a hint
of stereotype, opening with loud gong crashes and brass fanfares before
introducing a gentle string melody. The second movement (La noche de Jaranas)
will sound familiar if you are acquainted El Salón México
with its bright, fidgety dance rhythm. If there was a love interest in the
film it is expressed in the beautiful La noche de Yucatàn. The finale,
La noche de encantamiento, has stamping percussion and screeching brass,
twisting, whirling , writhing and routing in wild abandon. Revueltas might
be on one of his benders but from the booklet illustration it seems that
he is calling the dead from their graves; less a carnival., more a Dance
Macabre. The CD packaging is unusual. In place of the booklet is a large
poster which is folded into a booklet. One side contains the track details
and the notes by Tim Page. These too are unusual in that the English script
has alternate lines with the Spanish; novel but difficult to read. This is
a pity because what he has to say is well worth reading. The reverse is taken
from a mural in the Hotel del Prado, Mexico City, entitled Dream of a
Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda by Diego Rivera who is present as a boy
holding hands with a skeletal lady. Her skull forms the central, CD-sized,
square of the poster and is not reproduced in colour as is the rest of the
mural, but in black and silver. This is what you see when folded and in the
CD case. This could not be adequately reproduced as a graphic for this page.
No matter, as the coloured counterpart is present as a backing piece to the
disc and that has been reproduced here. An enlarged silver and black version
of the skull is also printed on the CD. This is packing as imaginative and
startlingly original as the compositions contained within. Full marks to
catalyst who are distributed by BMG
There is more information on the composer in an article "Silvestre Revueltas:
Tale of an Unforgivable Oblivion" by Roberto Kolb Neuhaus see website