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.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa