AOM Logo July 1999

Sensemayá - Music of Silvestre Revueltas

Sensemayá; Ocho por Radio; La Noche de los Mayas; Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorcia for Chamber Orchestra; Ventanas for Large Orchestra; First Little Serious Piece; Second Little Serious Piece

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group

Sony 60676

David Aspinall
Cover Image

Was it not but a few months ago that someone in this magazine had the effrontery to take a stripe off Maestro Salonen and Sony for their un-enterprising selection of recording repertoire? Well, we will forgive every redundant Bruckner Four if it is the necessary economic trade-off to adventurous loss leaders like this CD. Glances at most Schwann catalogues reveals Revueltas' total available works amount to less than half a column. Has any major label ever devoted an entire disc to Mexico's foremost composer? Carlos Chavez had a brief vogue in the '60s, but Revueltas remains a name for anthologies. Dorian did give us a CD entitled The Unknown Revueltas a few years ago - was that an intentionally ironic title?

This new release, it is hoped, will start a trend. For those of us who lament the over-intellectualisation of 20th century music, Revueltas is alternative in spades. With all our post-modern fascination with primitivism, it's a wonder Revueltas hasn't arrived yet. A more revelatory introduction could hardly be imagined than this disc. And its appeal should not be restricted to the connoisseur of rare repertoire. This is music hard to delimit, with as much to persuade the average enthusiast as the specialist. Sensual, mysterious, colourfully eclectic, daringly modern technically - but with constant intrusions of folk and popular elements to secure it deeply in the tangled roots of traditional Mexican music. Where most practitioners of musical modernism don't have to try very hard to leave us shrugging (or cringing), Revueltas superimposes his sophisticated polyphony over an always-interesting rhythmic foundation. Vitality is the prevailing impression.

For those who have not made the composer's acquaintance and who are looking for a musical comparison: imagine Stravinsky in his neo-classic phase, with, however, a continual harking back to the wildness of Sacre du Printemps. Marry this to mariachi rhythms, with the whole concoction sitting on a deeper substratum of riotous ritual tribalism. Or for those of you whose tastes find this comparison a trifle too abstruse, imagine a Mexican version of the score of Plan 9 from Outer Space. Like I said, hard to imagine, let alone describe. Yet this fusing of elements does not sound at all artificial. Those fascinated with the genealogy of film composition will find that the CD's centrepiece, the film score La Noche de los Mayas (1939), offers hints of Waxman (The Nun's Story), Newman (Captain from Castile) and, least surprising in that he studied under Revueltas, Alex North (Viva Zapata and many more).

Before he died (of alcoholism) in 1940, the composer predicted he would have his day. As with Mahler, who had to wait fifty years for his parallel prediction to be vindicated, it seems Revueltas had a sure sense of his own significance.

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