Familiar and not so familiar music from the Americas

Music of the Americas: Andres Orozco-Estrada, The Houston Symphony – Works by Astor Piazzolla, Silvestre Revueltas George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein – Pentatone SACD Hybrid PTC 5186 619 TT: 64:42 (2/16/18) *** 1/2

What a nice disc from Pentatone. It offers music from George Gershwin’s 1928 piece An American in Paris, Silvestre Revueltas’ Sensemaya (1938), Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1961) and Astor Piazzolla’s Tangazo (1970).

The works are all connected by being contemporary, and written by composers from the Americas. One should also note that each of these composers straddled the barrier between popular and classical music.

Of course the Gershwin and Bernstein are well known, and I found myself most interested in the works by Revueltas and Piazzolla.

Sensemaya, written in 1938. Although the composer was Mexican, this work could best be characterized as Afro-Cuban. It’s Revueltas’ most popular work, but it was unknown to me.

I also enjoyed Piazzollas’ Tangazo. Although born in New York, the composers family roots were in Buenos Aires. Its title means ‘grand tango, and that’s exactly what it is. It begins with a slow tempo, then morphs into traditional tango music with the large scale orchestra.

All the works here are well played by the Houstonians, under the baton of Address Orozco-Estrada. The recording—I listened to the SACD layer in multi-channel audio is a fine one. Microphones are well placed giving an in the hall listener perspective. Surrounds are used for ambiance, and they successfully recreate the sound of a live orchestra. I’ve come to appreciate these kinds or recordings, as opposed to classical productions that have too many microphones and too many instruments spotlighted making the final product spectacular but unrealistic.

This is a nice collection that serves its purpose, but I would have been glad to lose the Bernstein and Gershwin for some more explanation of lesser known composers.

—Mel Martin