Notes and Editorial Reviews
El Festin de los Enanos
Claudia Corona (pn); Gregor Bühl, cond; Nuremberg SO
TYXART 13024 (58:33)
It is always gratifying when musicians seek out obscure works to record, thereby broadening our knowledge of the repertoire. Although I have listened to many anthologies of 20th-century Mexican music, José Rolón (1876–1945) has never come to my attention before. He was a pianist, teacher, orchestra founder, and composer who studied in Paris with, among others, Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger. His two works on this disc reveal a French influence in their orchestral finesse and polish, combined with the rhythms and melodic contours of Mexican folk music. Along with this large-scale Concerto he wrote symphonic poems, a Symphony, and a String Quartet, all of which I would very much like to hear. (One movement of the Quartet is accessible on YouTube, but there does not seem to be a complete recording available.)
The Concerto, begun in 1928 but not completed until 1935, is in three movements, played without a break. It has been performed rarely if at all since its 1936 premiere. For this recording pianist Claudia Corona revised and clarified the orchestral parts—a true labor of love. The work abounds in Lisztian figuration and colorful orchestral textures; the Piano Concerto it reminds me of is that by Khachaturian, composed around the same time, except of course that the themes have a Mexican rather than Armenian flavor. Structurally it is somewhat ramshackle, but its high spirits and the profusion of ideas keep it interesting. Rather like certain works of Villa-Lobos, you simply have to relax and go with it. Corona and the Nuremberg forces under Bühl attack the work with all the gusto it requires, especially the frenzied closing section.
The eight-minute symphonic scherzo
Feast of the Dwarfs,
op. 30, is built on a syncopated rhythmic figure (a triplet followed by a duplet), which the composer dresses up in sophisticated orchestral textures and develops skillfully. Dukas’s influence is obvious here, although the piece is no mere imitation. Again the mood is joyous.
Samuel Zyman (b. 1956) is the more familiar name. Born and educated initially in Mexico, he now resides in the U.S. and has taught at Juilliard since 1987. This Piano Concerto may be an expanded arrangement of an earlier Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra; the latter is the only Piano Concerto mentioned in Zyman’s list of published works. That chamber concerto was recorded in 1989 (by Mirian Conti), whereas this new recording is advertised as the premiere of the “symphonic version.” It was first played by Corona in concert in 2005. Again in three movements, it is similarly a large-scale showpiece but more tightly structured and tougher than the Rolón. The piano’s relentless scale passages in the first movement and the somewhat monolithic lyricism of the second both bring to mind the Concerto by Chávez (which recently received an excellent new recording, coupled with solo works by Zyman and others: see reviews by Peter Burwasser and myself in
37:1). Zyman is warmer than Chávez, and this warmth comes to the fore in the vivacious
movement that closes the work. That final movement also contains a quiet, introverted passage of lyrical beauty for the piano, before scampering off towards the abrupt final cadence.
I cannot over-emphasize the care and zest with which these musicians approach this enjoyable program, and the recording quality is excellent. Without question, this disc is a delightful discovery.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott