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An independent spirit

PATRIC STANDFORD considers a new Chavez CD

CD Review
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Carlos Chavez was 79 when he died on 2nd August 1978 at his home on the outskirts of Mexico City. He had been born there, and apart from 8 months in Paris as a kind of extended honeymoon after he married Otilia in 1922, he was hardly ever away from his great home city.

He was a formidable pianist and spent most of his mature life as a conductor, musical activist, educator and folklorist, but as a composer he was by far the most important Latin American composer of his time. His music reflects the power and determination of his personality. It is exotic and quirky, partly because he was never enslaved by the European epidemic of what he called 'the useless complications of German and French harmony treatises'.

His only composition teachers were 'the great masters', and he developed an individual creative voice and a startling skill for orchestration, the handling of instrumental colours and all kinds of percussion. This gives the essential flavour to real Latin American symphonic music. It is there in Ginastera and Villa-Lobos. It is something that sounds unbalanced, not quite as it should, by those with a European ear-training. It is an independent spirit, imitated as a sort of parody of the dilettante by Copland, Milhaud and others, just as jazz had been imitated without understanding.

Carlos Chavez: Three Symphonies. Copyright (c) 1999 ASVBut all this you can judge for yourself with this new CD of major orchestral works by Carlos Chavez, conducted by his compatriot Enrique Bátiz, the founder 30 years ago of the State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra. It is a CD for those who do not know Chavez the composer - or those who only know the exuberant Toccata for percussion and orchestra. Here there are three of his seven symphonies, a symphonic suite culled from theatre music, and a short, brilliant and perky 'symphonic painting' simply called Baile (Dance).

The symphonies 1, 2 and 4 cover twenty years from 1933, when Chavez wrote music for Cocteau's adaptation of Sophocles and turned it into Sinfonía de Antigona. Originally scored for an orchestra of wind and percussion, it is, like so much of his music, justifiably described as 'austere', yet richly colourful, haunting and mysterious. (Click to listen.) The second symphony which, like the first, is in a single short movement (both are under 14 minutes), may prove the most vigorously attractive. Sinfonía india uses Indian themes, rhythmically combining the primitive and the modern in an exciting sound world that includes Yaqui drums, water gourds, clay rattles, butterfly cocoons and deer hooves. (Click to listen.) The CD's centrepiece is its longest, the five-movement suite La Hija de Cólquide (The daughter of Colchis), a ballet written for Martha Graham in 1943 on the Medea theme. This too is haunting, dwelling much on a solo oboe, but giving prominence to the clarinet, trumpet and horn too, and allowing an overflow of romantic diatonicism in a luxurious Peán, out of which the clarinet and harp wander affectionately into the quiet spacious closing Postludio.

The fourth symphony (Romántica) is in three terse movements, with strong tonal allegiances, the last of which is a lively Latin dance. The Baile of 1953 is the final piece in this concert and was originally intended to be the fourth symphony's finale, but it stands on its own, a brief escapade with an impudent piano part and short persistent rhythms that bounce around energetically and remain in the memory. (Click to listen.)

Enrique Bátiz conducts his own Mexican Symphony Orchestra (in the substantial symphonic suite), the City of Mexico Philharmonic, and the Royal Philharmonic with which he was principal guest conductor in 1984. It is an excellent way of celebrating the centenary year of Carlos Chavez's birth.

Copyright © Patric Standford, July 10th 1999

Carlos Chavez

Symphony No. 1 Sinfonía de Antigona (1933)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Enrique Bátiz

Symphony No. 2 Sinfonía india (1935-6)
City of Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra / Enrique Bátiz

La Hija de Cólquide (The Daughter of Colchis) - Symphonic suite (1943)
Claudia Coonce, oboe; State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra / Enrique Bátiz

Symphony No. 4 Sinfonia romántica (1953)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Enrique Bátiz

Baile (Dance) - symphonic painting (1953)
State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra / Enrique Bátiz

ASV    CD DCA 1058    77'10


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