ASV's Musica Mexicana, Vol. 2, is the second issue in ASV's trend-setting series of Mexican classical music releases, and one of the best of the lot. It pulls together three of the finest orchestral works Mexico has to offer, Manuel Ponce's Concerto for violin and orchestra, Carlos Chávez's Sinfonia India, and Silvestre Revueltas' La Noche de Los Mayos, in the standard configuration assembled by José Limantour.
There is a hidden treasure here in the performance of Ponce's seldom-heard Concerto for violin and orchestra in that it is played by the dedicatee of the work, violinist Henryk Szeryng, in his fourth and final recording of it. This must have been one of Szeryng's last recordings, as he died in 1988, but for some reason ASV is not very forthcoming about the date of the recording, which appears to be from the mid-'80s; perhaps its presence might cast doubt as to whether the recording is truly "DDD" as it says. It makes no difference to one's ears, however, as Szeryng really earns his paycheck here -- he has been playing this concerto for more than 40 years, and he is able to raise it from a mere whisper of sound to a slashing attack of rapid sixteenths without batting an eyelash. It is a superb testament to Szeryng's artistry, and Enrique Bátiz and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra provide a sensitive, though never slack, backdrop. One wonders why this concerto isn't performed more often -- structurally it is practically a textbook example of what a violin concerto should be, and it combines the trajectory of romantic form with a lean, neo-Classical orchestration and a nod to impressionist harmonies, not to mention the natural Latin flavoring of Ponce. It even contains a couple of wry quotations from other material; a few notes from the opening of "The Donkey Serenade," a pop radio hit inescapable in about 1940, poke out from the solo part, and even a strand of his own "Estrellita." Oddly, the only other violinist to record this concerto is Miranda Cuckson.
The other works are very well done; this is the Orquesta Filarmónica de la Ciudad de México playing Chávez's Sinfonia India in its full orchestration, and works out a bit better for Bátiz than it generally did under the baton of the composer, although some may prefer this piece in its tarter, more compact, reduced version. La Noche de Los Mayos, though, is strikingly different from the familiar and well-traveled Herrera de la Fuente recording -- ASV's recording is closer up, drier, and it is easier to hear details in the percussion parts. Just because one already owns recordings of the Chávez and Revueltas does not mean that this 1993 release is obsolete; on the contrary, the Ponce is essential, and the rest presents a viable alternative to all others.