Mexican composer Manuel Ponce (1882-1948) is known outside Mexico mostly for his guitar music and for the popular song Estrellita, which like other Latin American evergreens existed in various forms and is heard here in a lovely piano version. In his own time he was a renowned piano recitalist and teacher, and he wrote more than 100 pieces of piano music. There is a seven-disc complete set of them by pianist Hector Rojas, and they are sometimes heard on anthologies. This single-disc program by Jorge Federico Osorio strikes a happy medium, introducing the listener to attractive selections by Ponce in various genres. Most of Ponce's piano music dates from early in his career, but at the end of the disc are two extremely distinctive etudes for piano dedicated to Artur Rubinstein that date from Ponce's later residence in Paris and show the influence of French Impressionism.
Osorio's presentation of this music is superbly balanced between the music's various aspects. In Ponce's youthful Estudios de concierto, works written in the shadow of the Lisztian school, he showers sparks around the upper register of the piano in Hacia la cima (Toward the Summit). The Trozos Románticos (Romantic Sketches) and Canciones Mexicanas display his skills at evocative melody. For many listeners the highlights will be the eight "Mazurcas" presented on this disc. The Polish mazurka, along with other Eastern European dances, maintained its popularity in Mexico for decades (and in America too, as anyone with a collection of old polka records knows). Ponce's examples certainly make reference to Chopin but have their own flavor; sample track 19, the Mazurca No. 23 in A minor, for a treatment of the mazurka dance that ranges all over the keyboard.
It might have been nice to have translations of evocative Spanish titles like Paz de ocaso (Twilight Calm), from the Suite Cubana. But this is a generally exemplary presentation of a segment of the Latin American repertoire.