Chavez: Piano Concerto (CD review)

Also, Meditacion; Moncayo: Muros Verdes; Zyman: Variations on an Original Theme. Jorge Federico Osorio, piano; Miguel Prieto, Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico. Cedille CDR 90000 140.

So, who is Carlos Chavez, whose Piano Concerto is the centerpiece of this Cedille disc? Regrettably, I must admit that I had never heard of him before now, which only demonstrates how little I know. Carlos Antonio de Padua Chávez y Ramírez (1899-1978) was a Mexican composer, conductor, educator, and journalist, the founder and director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, the very group who perform on this album. Chavez wrote symphonies, quartets, sonatas, incidental music, and concertos, and he was among the most influential composers of his day.

Fortunately, I can say I have heard of pianist Jorge Federico Osorio, who performs the Piano Concerto along with several solo pieces on the disc. Osorio is a piano virtuoso of international fame, and in my experience he has never demonstrated anything but sensitive, immaculate, committed, passionate  playing in his work. It was a pleasure listening to him on the Cedille disc, and even though I had never heard any of the music before, he made it appear vibrant and entertaining.

As I say, the centerpiece is Chavez’s Piano Concerto, written in 1940. Now, here’s the thing: If you’re looking for something Latin-inflected, this may not be what you want. While the booklet note says that Chavez adhered to local tradition and borrowed from indiginous native culture, I could hardly detect it. The fact is, there is more Stravinsky here than anything Hispanic or Native American; however, as Chavez’s style is to create constantly shifting dissonances, it’s hard to tell what might be buried in all the notes.

Anyway, there seemed to me to be as many Asian-oriented passages as anything else, at least in the first few minutes. Now, here’s the thing: You may find it as complex and scintillating as critics did at the premiere or as cacophonous as audiences did, which may explain why the piece has gotten so little attention since. Nevertheless, as a modernist, Chavez used cacophony as a part of his technique, so you live with it.

Although I had no other recording of the Concerto with which to compare this one, I can’t imagine another surpassing Osorio’s way with it. His playing is full of intense, nervous energy, which no doubt the Chavez work requires. There is nothing Romantic or sentimental, either, not in Chavez’s music and not in Osorio’s performance.

What we get here is an abundance of sharp contrasts and vibrant rhythms, with a good deal of percussion and flute backing up Osorio’s piano. But it’s always Osorio’s piano that is front and center in the music, with Osorio mining a seemingly inexhaustible fund of accents, textures, nuances, and brief flurries of melody.

Chavez follows the momentous first movement with a rather outgoing slow one, largely scored for piano, harp, and reeds. Again, it’s Osorio who rightly dominates, his playing always keeping the listener intently aware that this is music of an original kind, strongly characterful, but, again, never romanticized or nostalgic. Then, with the finale, we’re back to the cacophony of the first movement, where Osorio dazzles with his gymnastic finger work. It’s quite a bravura piece of music with a performance by Osorio, Maestro Miguel Prieto, and the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico to match. Whether you’ll like it or not is another question.

Also on the program are three solo piano pieces, the first of which is Chavez’s Meditacion, an early work from 1918. As the name implies, it’s contemplative, sounding rather Debussy-like in its quiet, dreamy way. Osorio makes sure, though, that we don’t dismiss it out of hand as lightweight, and his alternating dynamism brings out the work’s more-creative development.

Next, there is Muros Verdes (“Green Wall,” 1951) by Jose Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958), a Mexican pianist, percussionist, music teacher, composer, and conductor. As with Meditacion, Muros Verdes comes across with an easygoing stillness. Then, the album ends with Variations on an Original Theme (2007) by the contemporary Mexican composer Samuel Zyman (b. 1956). It exhibits a remarkable variety of fast, slow, agitated, relaxed, and vibrant characteristics. Needless to say, Osorio puts his heart into it, and while it can sound somewhat as cacophonous as Chavez’s Concerto, it also sounds richly expressive.

Producer and engineer Bogdan Zawistowski and engineer Humberto Teran recorded the Concerto in 2011 at Sala Nezahualcoyotl, Centro Cultural Universitario UNAM, Mexico; and producer James Ginsburg and engineer Bill Maylone recorded the additional solo pieces in 2012 at the Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio at 98.7 WFMT, Chicago. The miking in the Concerto ideally integrates the piano and orchestra, even if the modest distance employed can result in a slightly recessed sound if played back too softly. The midrange is smooth and natural, without losing too much detail, the hall imparting a faint, pleasant glow to the music. At an appropriate playback level the sound is nigh-well perfect, with wonderful percussion effects. In the solo pieces, we hear a slightly closer, more-dynamic piano sound, near ideal.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    You have to listen to his wonderful Sinfonia India. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.
    Thomas Roth


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 of The $ensible Sound magazine 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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa