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Mark Pinto Recommends...Mi Alma Mexicana (My Mexican Soul)

Alondra De La Parra's My Mexican Soul

Alondra De La Parra, conductor
Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas

Mexico celebrated 200 years of independence on September 16, 2010. To mark the occasion, Sony Classical released this thoroughly enjoyable two-disc sampling of orchestral music written by Mexican composers over the last two centuries. Okay, 125 years, to be precise. The program was assembled by the young, Mexican-born, New York-based conductor Alondra de la Parra, who founded the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas in 2004 at age 23.

The orchestra consists of players mostly under the age of 35 who hail from 22 different countries, with a mission to perform the music of the Americas. They do so here with obvious affection for this diverse, colorful, and oft-neglected music.

The music written during the first century of Mexico's independence reflects an overwhelmingly European influence. Not until the Mexican Revolution of 1910 does the music of Mexico become more distinguishable, drawing on indigenous folk melodies, mariachi elements, and dance rhythms, while not avoiding modernist dissonances and forms.

This recording features a mix of popular compositions and works by lesser-known composers, including two world-premiere recordings. Among the well-known works are Jos? Pablo Moncayo's exuberant Huapango, called by many Mexico's "second national anthem," Silvestre Revueltas' primal Sensemaya, and a cutesy arrangement (I would have preferred the original version) of Juventino Rosas' waltz Sobre las olas (Over the Waves), which was made more famous in the U.S. through the song, "The Loveliest Night of the Year." Then there's Arturo Marquez's Danzon 2, an instant hit with Mexican audiences and a definite toe-tapper, if ever there was one.

Several hidden gems await your discovery here, too. In Imagenes (Images), an atmospheric 1927 symphonic poem by Candelario Huizar, hymn-like melodies, troubadour songs, and marches lead listeners through a succession of romantic scenes. The technical mastery of Spanish-born guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas shines in his sensitive, nuanced performance of Manuel Ponce's breezy Concierto del Sur (Concerto of the South), the longest work on this recording. Federico Ibarra's 1993 Sinfonia No. 2, subtitled in English The Anterooms of Dreams, lives up to its subtitle with passages alternately hallucinatory, mysterious, hypnotic, and infernal, compressed into the space of 9.5 minutes. Enrico Chapela's raucous Inguesu (a Mexican curse) musically depicts an actual soccer game that took place in 1999 between Mexico and Brazil, complete with referee whistles and crowd chants.

The engaging and accessible works in this collection have whetted my appetite to hear more of this dazzling music. I highly recommend this musical trip south of the border, down Mexico way.

A Philadelphia native, Mark grew up in Roxborough and at WRTI has followed in the footsteps of his father, William, who once hosted a music program on the station back in the '50s.