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Recital Media Review Print

Charming Mexican Salon Piano Music

December 24, 2012 - Williamsburg, MA:

Salón Mexicano, Jorge Federico Osorio, piano. Ricardo Castro (1864-1907): Barcarola, Op. 30/2, Caprice Vals, Op. 1, Mazurca melancólica, Vals amoroso, Op. 31/11, Vals bluette, Vals caressante, Vals melancólico, Op. 36/2, Vals sentimental, Op. 30/1; Manuel Ponce (1882-1948): Canciones Mexicanas: “Por ti mi Corazón”, “Marchita el Alma”, “Todo pasó”, 8a Mazurca de Salón; José Rolon (1876-1945): Vals Capricho, Op. 14; Felipe Villanueva (1862-1893): Amor: Vals de Salón, Causerie: Vals lento, Ebelia: Mazurka de Salón, Sueño Dorado: Mazurka, Tercera Mazurka, Op. 27, Vals Poético: Vals de Salón para piano; Çedille 900000132, © 2012, TT 74:10, $16.

Readers/listeners who anticipate that this will be piano music à la Copland’s El Salón Mexico will be completely taken aback when they hear it; it is a totally different kind of salon music, similar to what was heard in the salons of Paris or Vienna in the period from about 1890 to WW I. There is no particular Mexican flavor to it in the pre-conceived notion that Copland’s work has created in our minds. This does not mean, however, that it is not good or lovely music, or there is no trace whatsoever of Mexico in it; it is simply more subtle.

Readers would also be wrong to think that this is lightweight music, of a lesser value than single movement works with different titles such as Ballade, Fantasia, Intermezzo, or Nocturne, and composer names other than Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Schumann. They should remember that much of the music by those composers débuted in salons, as did much of that of Chopin and Liszt, the clear predecessors of these pieces and heroes of their composers, and that virtuosity is found not only in showy display but also in nuanced sensitivity, both of which were esteemed by the salons’ attendees. There is a goodly share of the latter type in many of these pieces.

It would likewise be wrong to think that because most of the works on the program are waltzes or mazurkas (Three are transcriptions of traditional Mexican songs.), it would be over an hour’s worth of the same sort of material and rhythms and inherently monotonous. No two of the works here have exactly the same atmosphere, and even if nearly everything is in three-quarter time, it’s not the same 3/4. The program is carefully structured, with waltzes generally alternating with mazurkas and the quieter, more discreet with the more brilliant, bravura types. For example, the virtuosic opener, Castro’s Caprice Vals, is followed in a stark contrast by the delicate, almost dainty opening of Villaneuva’s "Sueño Dorado," although it gathers some steam as it moves along. Each has its individual melody, style, and featured technique – arpeggios, ripples, runs, trills, delayed or suspended notes, etc., with a few internal echo-like similarities among them; many end with a flourish. Often, the titles themselves suggest their overall mood.

The pieces range from just under or slightly over 2 minutes for four of them to 7 for the program’s opener and just over 8.5 for its closer, the Rolón Vals Capricho (Note the title’s similarity with the opener’s.), actually a set of variations on the circus and merry-go-’round tune “Sobre las Olas,” to which the program seems to build, and which makes a brilliant, extravagant even climax. Some, including this one, conjure up images of dancers swirling around ballrooms as often portrayed in films over a soundtrack of the music of Johann Strauss, Jr. – as I said at the outset, not your standard concept of Mexican society or music. Most of this music is in the “Who knew?” category, as in: “Who knew that there were musical salons in Mexico and that this type of music was so popular there?”  The name of only one composer, Manuel Ponce, is familiar to us, and none of these works by him are well known. It’s a really fine, and most enjoyable introduction, and the performance by a pianist who grew up in that country is a bonus.

The booklet features on its cover a reproduction of Diego Rivera’s 1918 (He painted several.) Portrait of Angelina Beloff, his partner for a dozen years, a sort of Mexican take on Jacques Louis David’s 1800 Portrait of Madame Récamier, albeit posed in a much stiffer position and painted in a more ‘primitive’ style, with characteristic Mexican brilliant colors, an eminently appropriate image to establish the setting for the music. Credits are on its reverse with track listings and timings on the facing page. Program notes by Andrea Lamoureaux, Music Director of Chicago’s WFMT, written like the above listing by composer rather than by work in playing order, occupy pages 4-8. A bio of Osorio occupies pages 9-11, with a color photo portrait in the first column of the first of these pages. The back cover features the 3 other Çedille recordings by him, their booklet covers reproduced in color.

This is a delightful and satisfying recording with repertoire that is not likely to be found anywhere else, and for which Osorio is an impeccable and persuasive exponent. Heartily recommended.


P.S. A related CD by Osorio offers representative selections from the various piano works of Manuel Ponce that provides a good insight into this aspect of the composer's output, which is not well known in the US, in another fine performance. None of the selections are duplicates from the Salón Mexicano CD. Here is the listing:

Mexican Piano Music by Manuel Ponce: Canciones Mexicanas, Deux Ėtudes Pour Piano, Estudios de Conceierto, Legende, Mazurcas, Suite Cubana, Trozos Romanticos; Jorge Federico Osorio, piano: Steinway; Çedille CDR 900000086, © 2005, TT 74:40, $16.00.

The 4-minute Deux Ėtudes (dedicated to Artur Rubinstein), 5.5-minute Legende, and 12.5-minute Suite Cubana are played in their entirety; the other pieces are selections from larger sets. Excellent booklet notes by Dr. Ricardo Miranda , Professor of Musicology at the Universidad Veracruzana give the details about the works. The booklet cover is a reproduction of a charming painting: Inocencio Jiménez Chino's 1994 "Recolección de cosecha" ("Taking in the Harvest") that features a modern Aztec-calendar-looking sun in its upper right corner It makes a fine companion to the Salón CD.