Patrick Kearney

Impressions: Works by Manuel Maria Ponce

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The Sonata meridional and several other compositions by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce are staples of guitar recitals, but here's a release that takes you a bit deeper into the circumstances under which Ponce's guitar music took shape. Ponce, who went to Paris for studies with Paul Dukas, enjoyed a long, creative partnership with guitar pioneer Andrés Segovia, furnishing most of his guitar works (and all of those heard here except the short Appendix Variations from Cabezón used as interludes) for concerts in which Segovia played them as premieres. The Sonata meridional is a compact, exceptionally attractive fusion of impressionism, Spanish rhythms, and counterpoint, with the latter a bit more emphasized in the readings of Montreal guitarist Patrick Kearney than in Segovia's own performances. Kearney includes works that show other facets of the Ponce-Segovia partnership, including the sinewy Thème varié et Finale, a technically difficult piece, probably the most harmonically adventurous of the set, and not at all the pleasant salon work the title might imply. Even more interesting is the Suite in A minor, written for a concert in which Segovia was appearing with violinist Fritz Kreisler. The violinist at the time was composing and performing a long series of hoax Baroque works, and, according to annotator Kevin Manderville, Segovia wanted to play a joke on Kreisler by beating him at his own game. Ponce complied with a pleasant five-movement Baroque suite that the pair passed off as a work by Bach's contemporary Sylvius Leopold Weiss. Segovia later played the work, without identifying its composer, for Heitor Villa-Lobos, who pronounced it an authentic Bach suite. Ponce's piece sounds more like real Baroque music than Kreisler's forgeries, although the voice leading is replete with things that neither Bach nor Weiss would ever have created. The whole topic of exactly what audiences of the 1920s thought they were hearing in such works is worth further investigation; Ponce's little rarity, at any rate, sheds new light on the question and rounds out an interesting program. Kearney himself was involved in the production; perhaps it was he who caused the ATMA label's engineers to forsake their fascination with cavernous Montreal church spaces in favor of a studio that captures his quiet, detailed playing extremely well. Notes are in French and English.

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