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Roberto Kolb-Neuhaus
Journal of the Society for American Music, March 2013

Perhaps the most important contribution made by Ben-Dor’s recording is that it includes one of very few existing recordings of Colorines (Red Beans, 1932) for small orchestra, brilliantly performed by the musicians of the English Chamber Orchestra. But rarity is not the main virtue of this selection. This composition happens to represent one of the composer’s most daring aesthetic undertakings, and furthermore, one that stands out provocatively among the avant-gardes of the Americas at the time. © The Society for American Music

Peter Bates
Audiophile Audition, January 2011

Debut performance of pieces by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas are as rare as black leopards in the Yucatan. Revueltas (1899–1940) died young of alcoholism, but left behind a quirky, radically charged, nationalistic body of work that even today astounds as it entertains. I warily approached the reconstructed ballet La Coronela, which (although performed in concert), has yet to be staged or choreographed as a ballet. I believe my wariness was justified. Controversy abounds within the current version by José Limantour and Eduardo Moncada, the second of two attempts (the first having disappeared). Although filled with energetic episodes rich in stylistic variation, the final section by Limantour clearly shows the mark of bowdlerizing hands. The military strains of “Taps” without a trace of irony or mockery? The very idea.

Limantour suffers from the same syndrome of musical reconstructionists from the Mozart/Süßmeyr Requiem to the Bartok/Serly Viola Concerto: reverence. It’s particularly odd when the third section contains what has to be original Revueltas strains: a sudden waltz tempo with tasty discordant harmonies. Just how closely was Limantour listening when he penned the lack-luster conclusion? La Coronela is more of a curiosity shop for completists than a truly aesthetic musical experience. The other two pieces on the disc, however, are small masterpieces with persistent flashes of genius throughout. The moody Itinerios is intensely lyrical with subtle rhythmic style. The earlier Colorines—rarely performed for some mysterious reason—is energetic and frisky, and above all, more internally consistent than his final piece, La Coronela.

Ballet Review, December 2010

“The Lady Colonel” is a ballet on the Mexican revolution left unfinished by Revueltas on his early death, but it was soon finished and orchestrated by colleagues for its 1940 premiere by the Ballet de Bellas Artes, choreographed by Waldeen, the Texas-born pioneer of modern dance in Mexico. Its four parts are typical of Revueltas, with abrupt shifts between bright and somber popular rhythms and melodies. It rambles at times, but is always interesting and often fun. This version was finished by José Limantor (who conducted in 1940) with the color and feel of Revueltas’ better known works like Sensemayá.

Itinerarios and the early, bright Colorines contrast effectively with it and each other. Ben-Dor gets the right feel for La Coronela from her Santa Barbara orchestra and in the shorter works from British musicians in recordings made in 1997–98.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, September 2010

Revueltas (1899–1940), now often considered the Mexican Charles Ives, was in fact a combination of Ives, Milhaud, Stravinsky, and Satie, incorporating elements of each of these composers in his quirky yet fascinating blend of Mexican folk music and European forms. A manic-depressive, Revueltas fluctuated personally and musically between ecstatic highs and deeply sorrowful lows, and the full flavor of his music still has the ability to stun. He once wrote, “There is nothing I can say about the technique behind my music because it doesn’t interest me. Some good-humored people claim I have mastered composing technique; then again, some ill-tempered ones claim I haven’t. Well, they surely know better.”

I was previously unfamiliar with the recordings of Gisèle Ben-Dor, a Uruguayan-born conductor who built the Santa Barbara Symphony into a world-class orchestra during her tenure there in the 1990s, yet one clearly hears in her work a firm grasp of structure, attention to detail, forward propulsion, and a sheerly sumptuous orchestral tone. Listening to this recording, I was particularly impressed by her sure control of dynamics and her ability to make the music swagger; my only caveat—and this may only apply to her studio work—was a certain sense of caution in her approach. A little less fastidious tone and a little more risk-taking would have been very welcome in Revueltas’s brilliant yet eccentric musical fantasies.

My reaction to La Coronela must be conditioned by the fact that it is not 100-percent Revueltas. The composer died before the work was entirely finished. It was originally completed by one of his friends, the composer Blas Galindo, for its premiere in November 1940, but that score has been lost. The present version is based on the revival of 1957, at which time conductor José Limantour reconstructed the original manuscript himself and turned the orchestration over to film-score composer Eduardo Hernández Moncada. Controversy surrounded this version even during rehearsals, where it was learned that Limantour embellished Moncada’s orchestration, claiming that the latter wasn’t really familiar with the capabilities of a well-trained symphony orchestra. In the final analysis, then, one must ask whether or not the orchestration works, to which I say it does, but whether or not these would have been Revueltas’s choices had he lived can never be known.

Nevertheless, the score fairly bursts with ideas, pushing the envelope in combining duple and triple meter, uptempo music with plaintive chants, and generally setting a mood of restless agitation. In the third section, “La Pesadilla de Don Ferruco” (Don Ferruco’s Nightmare), a placid waltz representing the bourgeoisie at a party is made edgy by means of subtle but noticeable discordant harmonies. The waltz is interrupted by the arrival of “The Scoundrel and the Simple Girl,” an agitated passage, and when it returns it gets pushed aside by an increasingly complex Mexican song. There are sections representing “The Upper Crust of 1900,” the “disinherited” peons or working class, and ending with a battle after which the Lady Colonel rejoices in her victory. In “The Last Judgment,” the score calls for “toque de silencio” or “the solemn military taps,” but doesn’t specify which “toque” should be played. Ben-Dor has wisely chosen the internationally known call in order to emphasize the universality of struggle and liberation.

Itinerarios (Itineraries) is a strange little piece alternating between bizarre, almost surreal uptempo music and a long, slow passage that reaches the depths of despair. I’m not sure what the narrative of this piece represents, but it most assuredly sums up Revueltas’s bipolar nature.

The CD ends with the earliest composition here, Colorines for chamber orchestra (1932). Here we switch from the Santa Barbara Symphony to the English Chamber Orchestra, and in my view also to a much more exciting performance. In some ways this is due to the sound, which is very clearly recorded whereas the other works seem to be have been made in a much more reverberant setting. The music certainly shows flashes of the brilliance to come as well, although the bitonal opening seemed to be presented more for shock effect than as an effective prelude to the rest of the piece. Still, it is Revueltas, and for that alone we are grateful to hear it...this CD is simply indispensable for admirers of this wonderful, original composer since The Lady Colonel is a world premiere recording.

David Hurwitz, August 2010

The shorter couplings, vintage Revueltas indeed, are fabulously played and conducted as well, so if you’re a fan of this composer, frustrated to date by the unavailability of this major release, take heart and snap this up without delay.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, August 2010

In a composing career which spanned about 16 years Revueltas left a large body of work in all genres except opera. His music gets right to the point immediately; there’s never a note wasted, and he speaks the Mexican vernacular. Paul Bowles called him “The Mexican Falla” but his music is far too Rabelaisian for that. Falla was fastidious in everything he wrote. Revueltas is manic; one feels that he barely has time to get one idea on paper before another comes into his mind that must be used. It’s easy to see why he has been compared to Charles Ives for, at first hearing, one might think that here is someone who has little idea as to what he is doing. Further knowledge of the music—and this is also true of Ives—shows a strong hand and a strong musical mind at work.

Colorines, the earliest work here, is scored for a small orchestra and is full of Indian drumming, bird-calls, screams might be a better word, and it sings of the country villages and their people. You can hear all the subsequent cowboy film scores here, but this is the real thing, not an ersatz Mexico. Itinerarios is more serious. Huge chords for full orchestra lead to a saxophone lament, with the chords now reduced for a few instruments...La Coronela is the most important piece here. The notes, in the inlay, give the full story so I won’t dwell on it here beyond pointing out that it is a ballet involving skeleton characters based on the engravings of José Guadalupe Posada and a revolutionary plot around the theme of a workers’ coup against an oppressive régime. The work is in four episodes: Society Lady of Those Times; The Disinherited; Don Ferruccio’s Nightmare; The Last Judgement. Left incomplete when Revueltas died the first realisation fell to Blas Galindo with orchestration by Candelario Huizar. This was premiered in Mexico City in 1940 after which the score promptly disappeared. The ballet is heard here in an edition by Eduardo Hernández Moncada (who had conducted the 1940 premiere) and José Limantour. Limantour conducted the premiere of this version in 1962 in Mexico City. It’s a very exciting piece, having all the usual Revueltas fingerprints and it leaves you wanting more.

This is a fabulous disk, well worth having for the marvellous music it contains and the fact that here is a true wild card of music. Good notes, great sound. The sheer earthiness of this music is compelling, which makes it all the more fascinating that Revueltas’s attractive music should still be looking for an audience.

Dean Frey
The Villa-Lobos Magazine, June 2010

I really enjoyed Xavier Montsalvatge’s Piano Music, v. 1, with Jordi Maso, a Naxos disc recorded in Spain in 2008 [8.570744]. Volume 2 is already out, and I look forward to hearing it. [8.570756]

[This] Naxos disc includes music by the amazing Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, who died much too young, and who was working on the ballet music for La Coronela when he did. This is an amazing score, and it is presented beautifully by Gisele Ben-Dor conducting the Santa Barbara Symphony. This is a World Premiere Recording, though it was released by Koch in 1998, and the Naxos version is a recent re-release. I recommend this very highly!

Both Revueltas and Montsalvatge have much in common with Villa-Lobos. Only 13 years younger than Villa, Revueltas unfortunately died in 1940, so his musical legacy isn’t as long or as strong as the Brazilian’s. La Coronela shows the same dramatic impetus that we’re beginning to discover in Villa-Lobos with the recent exposure of stage works like Yerma, Magdalena, and The Emperor Jones. Both composers are masters of the large orchestral palette, and both are just as much at home in bombastic battle set-pieces as they are in more introspective and sparely written passages.

Montsalvatge is from a younger generation, but there is much overlap in the influences of the Catalan composer and the Brazilian: Debussy, Milhaud, Satie, Ravel, Messiaen. Montsalvatge went farther afield into avant-garde music in the 1950s. He experimented with 12-tone music, which Villa-Lobos carefully skirted during his career. And Montsalvatge seems to have fallen naturally into a North American jazz idiom in the 40s and 50s, which Villa-Lobos mainly avoided, as much as he felt at home in various (especially Brazilian) popular music styles. Some of Montsalvatge’s piano music might share Latin American (and Caribbean) rhythms with pieces by Villa-Lobos, though it never sounds Villa-Lobosian.

Dean Frey
Music for Several Instruments, June 2010

The programme of Revueltas’s ballet provides a powerful forward movement to the music.

…very well played by the English Chamber Orchestra, under Ben-Dor’s capable direction. © 2010 Music for Several Instruments Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2010

Leonard Bernstein described Silvestre Revueltas as a great composer ‘had he lived’, for the Mexican died when he was just forty-one seemingly on the brink of a great career. His life story is the one told of so many great musicians, particularly those who set out on a path of changing the existing order of things, his existence often in poverty. For him his national music was only the backdrop and not an integral part of his compositions, his whole concept being in the new world of the 20th century. Rhythm was an all important ingredient in the works he left to us, and is the major constituent in the ballet, La Coronela (The Lady Colonel). The story is told by skeleton figures who relate the overthrow of the decadent bourgeois by the working class, and was very much his own thoughts of the world. He did not live long enough to complete the score, that task being given to Bas Galindo with Candelario Huizar orchestrating. That was subsequently lost, and what we now have is a reconstruction that takes us one stage further from Revueltas. So at best we have an approximation to his original intentions, though it is a full of verve, bristling with catchy tunes, and offering a finale full of high impact drama. The remainder of the disc is given to ‘pure’ Revueltas, and you do find that the orchestration is even more brilliant and daring. All, apart from Colorines, which is played by the English Chamber Orchestra, comes from the Santa Barbara Symphony, an ensemble that their conductor, Gisèle Ben-Dor, has placed on the world map. The recordings have previously been available on the Koch International label, the late 1990’s sound of superb quality. Very highly recommended.

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