Salon Mexicano (CD review)

Music of Castro, Villanueva, Ponce, and Rolon. Jorge Federico Osorio, piano. Cedille CDR 900000 132.

Nowadays, we tend to look askance at “salon music” as a sort of shallow, lowbrow attraction for little old ladies at their afternoon tea. But throughout most of the nineteenth century, back when people didn’t have radios, television, Internet, CD’s, DVD’s, BD’s, or any other D’s at their disposal, they listened to music the old-fashioned way--live. And that meant listening to it in a theater, concert hall, or church for big orchestral or choral works or a living room or drawing room, a “salon,” for many chamber and solo works. The latter, understandably, became a more economical proposition. For example, Chopin and Liszt were but two of the illustrious pianist/composers who found performing in the intimate setting of the salon attractive.

The present disc offers twenty “salon” selections from four Mexican pianists/composers, exquisitely performed by the celebrated international pianist Jorge Federico Osorio. The music runs high to waltzes and other dances, rhapsodic and melodic.

The program begins with the Caprice Vals, Op. 1, by Ricardo Castro (1864-1907). It’s a beautiful, gently flowing waltz that a Viennese composer could as easily have written. Osorio provides a delicate touch and a lightly exaggerated lilt that gives a delightful animation and warmth to the piece. It’s gorgeous. In addition, we get six other pieces by Castro, all of them in a similar vein.

The next composer is Filipe Villanueva (1862-1893), represented first by his Suena Dorado:  Mazurka. There is genuine grace and charm here in a genteel but lively setting. Again, Osorio shows us how a performer can conjure up music that is sweet, refined, and lyrical yet powerful and concentrated at the same time. This is more than mere lightweight entertainment; it’s art. Further down on the program, we get five more such pieces from Villaneueva.

Manuel M. Ponce (1882-1948) follows, the most-recent composer of the lot, with his 8th Mazurca de Salon. The pieces by Ponce, of which there are four, sound like the most seriously “classical” art music on the program. They haven’t got quite the popular appeal of some of the other works on the disc, but they can impart a more lasting impression. As before, Osorio is expressive, nuanced, and singing in his piano playing.

The final piece is the only work on the disc from Jose Rolon (1876-1945), a contemporary of Ponce.  Rolon dedicated his Vals Capricho, Op. 14, to pianist Arthur Rubinstein. Its variations on the familiar tune “Over the Waves” by Mexican composer Juventino Rosas takes flight in a most virtuosic manner and closes the show in high style.

The titles of most of the pieces say it all: sentimental, melancholic, romantic, and poetic. The result is music both soothing and stimulating. Add Osorio’s pianistic command, and it seems to me a winning combination.

This is a recording from audio engineer Bill Maylone, so you know it’s going to be good. Cedille recorded the program in 2012 in the Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio of 98.7 WFMT, Chicago, Illinois. The sound is of the reach-out-and-touch-it kind, where if you close your eyes, there is a piano in the room with you. The sonics are clear and clean, miked at a moderately close distance, with strong impact and articulation. It’s one of the best piano recordings you’re likely to hear.

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa