Latin America Alive / Mata, Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra

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LATIN AMERICA ALIVE—THE EDUARDO MATA SESSIONS Eduardo Mata, cond; Idwer Alvarez (ten); 1 William Alvarado (bar); 1,3 Marta Senn (mez); 3,4,5 Fernando de la Mora (ten); 3 Cecilia Angell (mez); 3 Enrique Iglesias (voc); 3 Qrt Latinoamericano; 6 Schola Cantorum de Caracas; 1,2 Orfeón Universitario Simón Bolívar; 1,2 Rafael Suarez Ch; 3 Alberto Grau Ch; 3 Simón Bolívar SO DORIAN 90914 (6 CDs: 360:45)

ESTÉVEZ La cantata criolla. 1 Mediodía en el llano. VILLA-LOBOS Choros No. 10. 2 Bachianas brasileiras No. 2. Uiapurú. REVUELTAS Redes. Sensemayá. ORBÓN Concerto grosso. 6 3 versiones sinfónicas. GINASTERA Pampeana No. 3. Estancia: Suite. CHÁVEZ Symphony No. 2, “Sinfonia India.” Caballos de vapor: Suite. FALLA La vida breve. 3 El amor brujo. 4 7 canciones populares españolas. 5 El sombrero de tres picos: 3 Dances. Homenajes

This cheaply priced set brings together a number of recordings made in the early 1990s in Venezuela, featuring the Simón Bolívar Orchestra under the baton of the Mexican conductor Eduardo Mata. Mata, who had a distinguished career in Europe, London, and the United States, died at the age of 52 in a plane crash in January of 1995.

The Simón Bolívar orchestra is internationally known because of the sistema , set up in Caracas in 1975 by José Antonion Abreu, whereby young people are taught to play and appreciate music. Many orchestras at various levels of proficiency are a part of this scheme, the Simón Bolívar representing the cream of the crop. Since Gustavo Dudamel became their chief conductor (prior to his tenure in Los Angeles), the orchestra’s profile has grown and the enterprise has expanded considerably. Ten years earlier, they had the good fortune to be associated with Mata, although I would guess that the majority of players from that time have since moved on.

Dorian initially recorded and distributed these CDs separately, and most collectors will be aware of them. Now they have been re-released as a box set by Dorian Sono Luminus. The latter company recently reissued the complete Villa-Lobos string quartets, and will produce a box set later this year of Mata’s Dorian recordings with the Dallas SO (where he was music director at the time of his sudden demise).

According to the press release, all the recordings have been newly remastered, although there is no indication of that in the packaging, and no engineer credited with remastering. (This is in contrast to the well-documented Villa-Lobos quartets reissue.) In an A/B comparison using three discs, I found the sound on the new set to have more presence; the slight boxiness of the original pressings has been minimized. The new discs have also been mastered at a higher level, a noticeable improvement.

In some other respects, crucial information is missing. No cast list is given for the opera La vida breve , merely a few singers’ out-of-date biographies. Research suggests the lead role of Salud is sung by Marta Senn, who is also the soloist in El amor brujo and the Seven Popular Spanish Songs , although nowhere is this stated. No librettos are supplied, even though the original incarnation of at least one of these discs did so (Estévez’ Cantata criolla ). The Cuarteto Latinoamericano is no longer acknowledged for their major contribution to Orbón’s Concerto grosso, and Sensemayá is not listed as part of the contents of disc 2 in the booklet. Notes are otherwise comprehensive.

Putting the two Falla discs aside for the moment, the program consists of Latin American music’s greatest hits, with a few lesser-known works mixed in, such as those by the Venezuelan Antonio Estévez (1916–1988) and Spanish-born Cuban Julian Orbón (1925–1991). A personal friend of Orbón, whose Partita No.4 for Piano and Orchestra he also recorded, Mata is very much at home in this music. He generally takes a no-nonsense approach, so performances tend to be snappy and slick. Ensemble is tight and textures clearly delineated.

In the 1990s, this orchestra had not attained its current level of polish, so it does not trump all competition—such as Mata himself conducting the New Philharmonia in Revueltas and the London SO in Falla (both RCA), or Dudamel’s sensational 2008 recording of Sensemayá, Mediodia en el llano , and Estancia on DG. Nevertheless, these colorful and energetic readings are highly enjoyable on their own account; the Estévez cantata builds impressively to its climax—a vocal duel between the two male soloists. This is also the only available version of Chavéz’ rare ballet score, Caballos de vapor.

The four CDs of Latin music alone would have made a tempting bargain box, but Dorian has added two discs of Falla. The second includes two rarities: the composer’s own orchestration of his Homenajes (“Homages”), some of which were originally written for piano or solo guitar, and the orchestral arrangement of the Seven Popular Spanish Songs made by Luciano Berio for his then wife Cathy Berberian. (Did Berberian ever record them?)

Falla’s early opera-cum-zarzuela La vida breve is well worth getting to know. Its Impressionistic opening gives way to a red-blooded verisimo story of love and death, replete with a Spanish dance in the style of The Three Cornered Hat and an interlude for (male) flamenco singer/guitarist. Mata championed this work throughout his career. The main soloists here are fine, but Senn is outsung by Victoria de los Angeles (EMI), Alicia Nafé (Telarc), and Teresa Berganza (DG), respectively. And though he may be authentic, Mata’s Gypsy singer sounds as if he’s been gargling battery acid. Senn is clearly uncomfortable in El amor brujo , where the tessitura lies awkwardly for her; the low part of her head voice comes over as hooty. I much prefer Nati Mistral on Mata’s earlier recording. Orchestrally, the Venezuelan performances are typically vigorous and clear.

Chávez’ Sinfonia India , Revueltas’s Sensemayá , Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas brasileiras No. 2 and Ginastera’s Estancia are cornerstones of the Latin repertoire. This release is a relatively cheap way to acquire them— and much else of interest besides—while paying fitting tribute to Eduardo Mata. It hardly feels like 15 years since his death.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: DSL-90914

  • UPC: 053479091420

  • Label: Dorian

  • Composer: Alberto Ginastera, Antonio Estévez, Carlos Chavez, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Julian Orbón, Manuel de Falla, Silvestre Revueltas

  • Conductor: Eduardo Mata

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra