Robert Lehmann

Manuel Ponce: Chamber Music for Strings

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Manuel Ponce laid the groundwork for the works of later Mexican composers who explored the country's rich folkloric heritage, and he even composed the pop hit "Estrellita." Toward the end of his life, however, he traveled to France, studying with Paul Dukas and adopting contemporary styles. There is a bit of Ponce's former Mexican style in the first two of these pieces, but there's also an inward quality that seems to reject nationalism. That inwardness is on display in the Sonate a Duo for violin and viola, composed in 1935, with its quite intensely contrapuntal opening movement. The other two movements have a vaguely Hispanic quality, used in service of rhythmic edge rather than ethnic color. The String Quartet, completed in 1936, was dedicated to Dukas and is cut from the same cloth, but the Petit suite dans le style ancien is a different thing: a neo-Baroque suite in the Stravinskian manner that illustrates something of how Baroque music landed on the ears of composers who were hearing it for the first time. It's a bouncy, rhythmically sophisticated piece. This same program is available in a recording by the Cuarteto LatinoAmericano, which has a long track record specializing in this kind of repertory, but the clean, focused performances of this quartet, also of Mexican and American background (first violinist Robert Lehmann is Mexican) also merits the listener's consideration.

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