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Manuel Maria PONCE (1882-1948)
Complete Piano Works - Volume 1
Estrellita ‘Metamorfosis de Concierto’ [3.42]
Prelude Mexicano ‘Cielito Lindo [0.57]
O la Orilla de un Palmar [3.43]
Serenata Mexicana ‘Alevántate’ [2.35]
Valentina [1.13];Ven, ‘Oh Luna [2.40]
Preludio Mexicano ‘Cuiden su vida’ [3.52]
Arrulladora Mexicana ‘Xochimilco’ [2.40]
Mañanitas [0.41]
Scherzino Mexicano [1.31]
Scherzino Maya [0.50]
Intermezzo No. 1 [2.56]
Mazurka de Salón in A flat major [1.56]
Mazurka in D minor [2.32]
Mazurka a la Española [3.16]
Preludio Romantico [1.50]
Deux Études pour Piano [3.31]
Sonatine [10.26]
Cuatro Danzas Mexicanes [6.13]
Álvaro Cendoya (piano)
rec. June 2012, Musikart, Amezketa, Guipuzkoa, Spain
GRAND PIANO GP 638 [59.33]

The Grand Piano label was new to me until this disc was unwrapped; neither had I heard of the Basque pianist Álvaro Cendoya. It appears to follow on from at least four other CDs from the same company covering rare repertoire by Constantin Silvestrov, Florent Schmitt, Percy Grainger and Alexander Tcherepnin. I am enormously impressed both by the recording and by the performances. Let me put some flesh on this skeleton. 

Manuel Ponce was Mexican and studied and lived for a while in Paris during the heady 1920s. He is one of the most significant composers to have emerged from Mexico. His language, as I shall be explaining, did alter a little over the years, but on the whole, especially following his return to Mexico in 1933 it was Mexican rhythms and the folk melodies he had grown up with that especially inspired him. This disc contains pieces in various styles and gives a reliable over-view of his output.
 
Some of you may well know his guitar works. As an examiner I often hear his music played with variable success. Some of you may be aware of his songs or arrangements of folk songs. Some might have come across his five orchestral works and three concertos and some may know something of his eight chamber works including the masterly cello sonata. That gives some idea of what music awaits us if we care to and have the opportunity to delve into it.
 
The first track is quite a famous piece. Estrellita began life as a popular short song. In 1912 this new, more complex version came out, hence the subtitle ‘Metamorfosis de Concierto’. This very romantic work was then lushly orchestrated; you can hear it under Enrique Batiz on Naxos 8.550838. Estrellita and the Preludio Romanntico emerged from Ponce’s studies in Italy and Germany amidst the German Romantic School of pianist/composers.
 
Similarly popular although stylistically from another world is the Cuatro Danzas Mexicanas. Each of these brief pieces begins with an excitable Vivo using some of the many rhythms that Ponce heard and used after his discovery of them in the late 1930s. Each also moves into a more romantic section, something more luscious and akin to the early pieces like Estrellita or the song arrangements, for example Valentina andVen ‘Oh luna!’ Music like this, partially anyway, came from his time after leaving Europe while he was living in Cuba during the First World War. 

There is another aspect to Ponce and one I find much more fascinating and which can be found exemplified in the Deux Etudes written for Artur Rubinstein and especially in the Sonatine. The former uses the pentatonic scale in the first study, reminding one of Debussy, The second is a wild Toccata. The Sonatine is a curious and eclectic piece. Its first movement is almost atonal, its harmonies and counterpoint are certainly very searching. The second is likewise, but the finale, an Allegro, is an exuberant Mexican Dance. These pieces arose from a period of study in Paris between 1925 and 1933. At that time Ponce was having lessons with Dukas while being influenced by figures of a more experimental bent.
 
Much of the music is virtuosic, but you might not always realise this, such is the skill that serves to hide the expertise. At no point is Cendoya fazed by the requirements of this aspect; instead he revels in the exotic sonorities and technical demands.
 
There are three Mazurkas on this disc. They manage to sound like Chopin transported to 1940s Mexico - utterly original. The Mazurka a la Española is the most like Manuel de Falla - very Andalusian and quite dissonant at times.
 
It’s good to know that this is Volume 1, and it’s worth knowing that Ponce was amazingly prolific for the piano. There are, for instance, twenty-five Mazurkas. How many more volumes there are to come we are not informed.
 
The accompanying notes by Paolo Mello put the music more or less into context and there are two interesting black and white photos of the composer.
 
Gary Higginson  

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