LATIN AMERICAN CLASSICS - Volume 1. Music by Moncayo, Revueltas, Galindo, Chávez, Halffter, Villa-Lobos, Ginastera, Rosas, Villanueva, and Ponce
Festival Orchestra of Mexico/Enrique Bátiz, cond.
NAXOS 550838 (DDD) (B) TT: 55:08

Confession: I'm spellbound by Hispanic-American music, especially from composers whom Carlos Chávez fostered, before most of them succumbed to Stravinsky—Sacre first, then to his dissonant-diatonic neo-Classicism. But my addiction stops short of pop-pap like Manuel Ponce's Estrellita, or Juventino Rosas' Sobre las olas (a.k.a. Over the Waves), both of which are embedded in this chimichanga like pieces of candied banana. Felipe Villanueva's Vals Poética is marginal because he died young a long time ago.

For fun, though, the redoubtable Bátiz—Mexico's best middle-generation conductor since Eduardo Mata killed himself in a small-plane crash— conducts a "Festival Orchestra" in such familiar oldies but goodies as Juan Pablo Moncayo's Huapango; the near-great Silvestre Revueltas' evocation of African snake-worship, Sensemayá; (accent on the last syllable); Blas Galindo's intoxicating Sones de Mariachi ("sones" means "sounds," "mariachi" are Mexican street bands). Representing Brazil, there's Villa-Lobos' "Little Train of the Caipira (that could)" offered here as "El Trenecito," while Argentina's Alberto Ginastera gets the nod with "Malambo," for liquored-up gauchos, from his ballet Estancia.

On a lesser level, not to say higher than Ponce or Rosas, is the immigrant Halffter's perennially boring Obertura Festiva ("Festival Overture" in gringo-ese). The one novelty is Chávez's Sarabanda para cuerdas from a 1943 ballet for Martha Graham, The Daughter of Colchis (La hija de Cólquide in Spanish).

Brian Culverhouse made this recording in 1993, presumably in Mexico City's glitzy Sala Nezahualcoyotl, although the Naxos sound is less cleanly defined than we've heard on Bátiz's CDs for ASV. Performances are uneven; they start off powerfully with Huapango, Revueltas is nearly as good, but Estrellita is bad salon stuff at a geriatric tempo, and so on unpredictably. There's a partial recovery at the end, in Sones, except that Bátiz did it better (and the Moncayo, too) on an '80s digital CD for EMI (49785).

This is a mixed sampler in other words, at a price hard to argue with, although the disc has room for another 20 minutes of music. Otherwise, Mata left a considerable legacy, even if most of it is currently out of print. So did Fernando Lozano (donde está?), as well as Bátiz in palmier days when Mexico's ruling PRI spent lavishly on culture.

There's one CD you may want to hunt out, however—currently on O.M. Masters (also called IMP O.M.), published by English Pickwick: Huapango (same Moncayo toe-tapper, plus two works by Revueltas, better Halffter, Chávez's Sinfonia India, and Galindo's Sones). Two of Mexico's Orquestas Sinfónicas share the honors—de Xalapa, and de Mineria. The conductor is Luís Herrerra de la Fuente, Mexico's post-Chávez doyen, and no one has done this repertory with more finesse or panache.