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PERFORMING ARTS | Recording

L.A. Philharmonic Gives Oft-Overlooked Composer His Due

*** 1/2 SENSEMAYA: THE MUSIC OF SILVESTRE REVUELTAS; Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor; Sony Classical

April 04, 1999|MARK SWED | Mark Swed is The Times' music critic

Last spring Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic rocked the Music Center with a vivid, exhilarating, unforgettably powerful performance of Revueltas' "La Noche de los Mayas." Now we have it on disc, along with several other works by the great Mexican composer who was born on the eve of the 20th century and whose life burned out in 1940, as the century seemed to lose hope.

Taken from the score of a film of the same name, the four-movement suite conjures the magical atmosphere--mysterious, percussive, scary and compelling--of Mayan nights and ends in a roof-rattling frenzy of a dozen timpani.

Surrounding "Mayas" on this, the first disc from a major orchestra and conductor exclusively devoted to Revueltas, are two of the composer's best-known works--the brief, exciting, Stravinskyan "Sensemaya" and the alluring chamber work "Holmenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca" (which the Philharmonic's New Music Group performs). Also included are several small, lesser-known scores, including the early, brash, Modernist "Ventanas" and the surreal mariachi-inspired "Ocho por Radio."

Surprising as it may sound of a Finn, Salonen seems to be an ideal Revueltas conductor. Performances are clean, clear, rhythmically alert and hot, and those of "Mayas" and "Lorca" are the best you'll find anywhere. "Sensemaya" and "Ventanas" don't seem quite as well-prepared (the former is a bit sexier under Bernstein in a recent Sony Classical reissue), but both are still very fine. The recorded sound (from the acoustically dull Dorothy Chandler Pavilion) is disappointing--the orchestra has body but not enough visceral punch, as if the producers feared pouring too much musical salsa onto tender ears.

No matter; this disc should nonetheless do much to introduce a wide public to a major but neglected voice of the Americas, a composer with a revolutionary spirit and a gift for transforming the vernacular into great art. Don't miss it.

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