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Salón Mexicano
Piano music by Ricardo Castro, Felipe Villanueva, Manuel Ponce and José Rolón
Jorge Federico Osorio, piano
Review By Joe Milicia


  No, you will not find a piano transcription of Aaron Copland’s El Salón Mexico on Cedille’s latest disc featuring Mexico-born, Chicago-based Jorge Federico Osorio. The music on this recital is far indeed from the raucous, free-wheeling Mexico City nightclub that inspired Copland. This is salon music in the European sense: party music for genteel gatherings, but certainly delightful in its own way. The four Mexican composers chosen by Osorio, all born between 1862 and 1882, are represented mostly by waltzes and mazurkas, played with relish and gorgeously recorded.

Few listeners will detect any Latin American flavor here. The majority of works are indebted to Chopin — and no doubt his many imitators, now mostly forgotten in the shuttered ballrooms of time — while a few pieces have a more Viennese (Strauss family) air. Osorio offers a generous selection of 20 pieces, all two to four minutes long except for the more substantial opening and closing numbers. I do wish he had grouped the works by composer rather than moving back and forth among three of them: no doubt he was aiming for constant variety of moods, but I would have liked to have gotten more of a sense of each individual’s musical personality or style. Reprogramming the disc, I was pleased to find a special elegance and grace in Felipe Villanueva’s three waltzes and three mazurkas. My favorite was Vals lento, with its quiet close, performed with great sensitivity; I imagine that a recitalist offering this piece for an encore would hear quite a buzz in the audience, wondering who could have written this lovely piece with such simple charm. In contrast, the five works by Manuel Ponce — the only internationally well-known composer in the group — are closer to the realm of 20th-century popular song, as one might expect from the writer of Estrellita. Or more precisely, his 8th Mazurca de Salón has that classic combination of melancholy and rhythmic verve that one expects to find in a Chopinesque mazurka, while a second “salon mazurka” sounds like a three-quarters-time rearrangement of Estrellita. The other three selections are in fact arrangements of Ponce songs.

The composer most fully represented is Ricardo Castro, with eight works, six of them waltzes, including the 7-minute virtuoso rondo Caprice Vals that opens the program. I especially enjoyed Castro’s Barcarolla — yet another triple-time piece (6/8 in this case) with its musical ripples against the imagined gondola’s side.

The finale, by José Rolón, is a spectacular Vals Capricho, a set of variations upon the famous trapeze-act waltz Over the Waves, or properly Sobre las Olas, since it too was written by a Mexican, Juventino Rosas, of the same era as the composers on this program. Dedicated to Artur Rubenstein, this is the sort of piece one associates more with a virtuoso like Leopold Godowsky, whose transcriptions of famous pieces are likewise thickly scored and staggeringly difficult. A pianist who chooses this for an encore would be doubly daring: in performance skill and in challenging the audience to enjoy what they might have dismissed as one of the most hackneyed of tunes.

Osorio is superb in all of this music, offering delicacy, flair, and rhythmic incisiveness. Cedille’s recording is first-rate, capturing the dynamic range of his Steinway with utter clarity and realism. Two welcome bonuses are an informative booklet essay by Andrea Lamoreaux and a droll cover painting by Diego Rivera of a young lady on a chaise longue, perhaps listening to a pianist: I suspect the artist meant it to be satirical, but it’s an interesting Euro-Mexican hybrid in any case.





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