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CHAVEZ piano works
Hsuan-Ya Chen (piano)
Elan 82406 (122'52")

This is an important discovery - South American and Mexican music is not too well known in UK. Carlos Chavez (1899-19780) created a post-revolutionary, nationalistic musical style for Mexico and is of the stature of Villa-Lobos and Ginastera.

About a third of Chavez's compositions are for piano, the earlier works strongly romantic, the next nationalistic and later with neo-classical orientation. This survey covers 1919 to 1975, encompassing great stylistic variety. Hsuan-Ya Chen is an impressive young pianist, if not in the top flight of virtuosi and also an academic who researched Chavez for her Masters. Her liner notes are the fruit of this immersion in his music, and very rewarding it has all proved to be.

There are two of Chavez's six sonatas, totally different from one another. No. 2 (1920) is massive and determinedly contrapuntal; that a pervasive aspect of his later music too. The first movement is restless with dramatic changes of mood and tempo. The second, attacca, is more contemplative, and the finale brilliant, with virtuosic octave passages that stretch the pianist technically. I had reservations, but thought it a work that could warrant the attention of a top pianist interested in Latin American repertoire, such as Artur Pizarro. Sonata No.6 is a curiosity, sounding rather like an 18th C. pastiche, with Alberti bass and so on. The finale is a long series of variations. Not to my taste, really.

But with the shorter pieces one enters a different world, and a very attractive one. The Ten Preludes (1937) are mostly two part explorations of modal scales, simple in effect and would be worth exploring by amateur pianists. They go through all the Gregorian modes and the last are bimodal and 'a mixture of modality-tonality'. Cool and very beautiful.

The Seven Pieces (1923-1930) are highly chromatic, often astringent and revelling in extremes. Henry Cowell published them in his New Music Quarterly Edition (1936). His last piano compositions are Five Caprichos, busy, demanding fast pieces separated by two more introverted slower ones, Lentissimo and adagio. Apart from my small reservation about the big 2nd sonata, Hsuan-Ya Chen is clearly able to give a good idiomatic account of all this music, to which she has devoted, I guess, several years of her life.

A very satisfying and valuable achievement, and a double CD which should attract a lot of interest and encourage pianists to explore this distinctive composer, a major figure in his own vast continent.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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