MUSIC Symphonics

A menu of Mata.

Dallas Symphony Orchestra music director Eduardo Mata’s dis-cography now includes 12 recordings (all on RCA), with three more in the works for fall and early next year. Having started recording only in 1978, Mata has had a remarkable output for a young conductor, especially since Mata’s record repertoire includes several major works that put him in the running with Abaddo, Giulini, Boulez, Karajan, Ozawa, and other podium superstars.

Of the 12 recordings, nine were available for review. (Not available: music by Revueltas, Mozart flute concerti with James Galway, and de Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat.) Not surprisingly, Mexican-born Mata favors Spanish and Mexican composers: Seven of his 12 LPs share this Latin derivation. He also has two Stravinsky discs to his credit, and two with Ravel’s music. If there is a pattern to his repertoire it is a penchant for large works and less well-known compositions; at this point he seems to prefer to fill in neglected corners of the Schwann Catalogue.

Mata may be developing a personal conducting style, but after listening to his recorded output for three months I would still fail a blindfold test. I could pick out a Szell, a Boulez, or a Giulini recording but not yet one by Mata. Given good musicians to work with -and his DSO recordings measure up well in most respects to his work with the Philharmonia and the London Symphony – Mata is capable of ereating an impressive and unique body of recordings over the next few years.

Copland: El Salon Mexico, Rodeo, Appalachian Spring. DSO. These pieces have been recorded to death over the years, but as an introduction to his Dallas audience perhaps a pops recording was an obligatory choic

El Salon may be Tex-Mex; it’s also a rousing, colorful score. Even if it’s on a less epic scale than the true Mexican works Mata admires, he has a real feel for its broad folksiness. Mata’s Rodeo is sassy and vivid, with a lovely “Saturday Night Waltz.” Appalachian Spring is less successful. The work lacks unity of vision -the grand sweep that can still make Appalachian Spring moving after almost 40 years of serving as a virtual second national anthem.

Chavez: Piano Concerto. Mata, Maria Teresa Rodriguez, New Philharmonia Orchestra. Mata and Mme. Rodriguez make the most of this crowded canvas, and that is a lot. The Chavez concerto is an epic work (beside it El Salon Mexico is a light-hearted picture postcard). This might well be a concerto for orchestra; Mata confidently threads whole masses of woodwinds and brasses through unusual, tricky rhythms. The recording reminds us that Latin America produces very listenable modernist music, by no means exclusively derivative of Stravinsky, Ravel, and Prokofiev. There are strong Indian, even Asian, influences at work in Chavez’s harmonies. Mme. Rodriguez’s playing captures this non-Western flavor especially in the second movement, and the whole work gets its primitive energy from Mata’s baton.

Ravel: Concerto in G; Prokofiev: Concerto No. 3. Mata, Tedd Joselson, DSO. Joselson is a pianist with “big hands,” who digs into the keyboard for a big, impressive sound. Given the right work, Mata creates the same all-hell-breaks-loose kind of excitement on the podium. This is Prokofiev’s greatest concerto, and Mata, Joselson, and the DSO render its edgy, percussive first movement with just the right balance of power, wit, and restraint. Flute and piccolo playing merges nicely with the treble piano. The languorous andantino movement is impeccable, and the rhythmically treacherous third movement is a driving collaboration of equals.

Mata is also on Joselson’s wavelength for Ravel’s Concerto in G. This Gershwin-inspired work gets off to a properly frenetic start with the famous Parisian taxi pile-up, but then it loses some nuance in the eerie second movement, whose bluesy allegro I thought was a shade too fast. Joselson knows how to push an orchestra and proceeds to do so in the splendid third movement, which is reminiscent of the Prokofiev on the flip side.

Stravinsky: The Firebird: Suite (1919); Symphony in Three Movements. Mata, DSO. Mata’s version competes with 15 or more Firebird suites on the market today, but his must surely have the best sound. I am here to tell you that no matter how bad your stereo gear is (mine is 20 years old and homemade), digital sounds as clean as bleached bone. Flutes and clarinets cut like razors, trombones growl up from nowhere. Is there a performance hall in the world where an orchestra would sound this good? Mata plays the startling contrasts in rhythm, dynamics, and texture in The Firebird for all they’re worth. The Symphony in Three Movements is even more impressive, with its nervously percussive piano, striking solo woodwinds, and rich orchestral coloration edging out several other versions of this piece. Musically, this is an absolutely stunning record. One problem: The digital equipment has picked up noises at Mountain View College Performance Hall, the site of the recording session, that sound like someone is opening a door with a crash bar.

Ravel: Daphnis and Chloé. Mata, DSO. Another digital dazzler, Mata’s version of Ravel’s masterpiece ranks with the Berlin and Cleveland recordings; it is by turns forceful and subtle. As a display of musical mastery over huge blocs of instrumental sound meshed with ethereal human voices, the sound quality on this elegant recording astonishes with its clarity.

Khachaturian: Violin Concerto; Gla-zounov: Concerto for Violin in A Minor, Opus 82. Mata, Eugene Fodor, London Symphony Orchestra. These two 20th-century violin concerti call for divergent styles, the Khachaturian (1940) an edgy astringency and the Glazounov (1905) a late romantic lyricism. Both soloist and orchestra adjust to the contrast but seem more suited to the Glazounov work. The Khachaturian is not easy to warm to. Although the LSO under Mata matches its superb sound quality to Fodor’s purity of tone, in the second movement the soloist sounds thin and the orchestra variously muddled or pushy. The third movement is a bravura circus-like romp with distinctly Russian tonalities.

Glazounov’s Concerto builds dramatically and makes the orchestra a true collaborator, not just a backdrop, as is too often the case with Khachaturian. There is some lovely interplay of the solo violin and the string ensemble. If you liked Fodor’s DSO appearances, the Glazounov Concerto is easily worth the price of the recording.

Rodrigo: Concerto Pastoral, Fantasia Para un Gentilhombre. Mata, James Gal-way (flute), Philharmonia Orchestra. This is the world premiere recording of Rodrigo’s Concerto Pastoral, which he wrote in 1978 for James Galway. A spellbinding super-flutist, Galway appears to be able to play anything on the instrument, and his range of tone qualities is encyclopedic. Although it’s a spirited work, I found the Concerto disappointin

The Fantasia Para un Gentilhombre is Galway’s transcription for flute from guitar, with minor changes in orchestration. With Galway playing, the new verson sounds naturally suitable for flute. The high point is the last movement, “Canario,” based on a popular folk dance and ending with an absolutely eye-popping cadenza.

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring. Mata, London Symphony Orchestra. Recording The Rite of Spring is a conductor’s rite of passage. A Sacre LP means a record company has the confidence to put their man up against the stiffest conductorial competition this side of Beethoven’s Ninth, including several versions -not necessarily the best -that Stravinsky himself conducted. Mata’s Sacre is a remarkably personal interpretation, unlike the half dozen I have heard. First, it’s very careful, almost cautious. Mata’s Sacre is textbook clear in rhythm and articulation by the very effective LSO players. But that clarity seems to come at the expense of a faster tempo. This is not Boulez’ barely controlled fury with the Cleveland Symphony. Somehow, though, Mata’s very desire for control creates a strange lack of contour, of peaks, in a work so ridged with dramatic surprises. I kept wanting to turn the volume up to get more punch; I missed the primitive frenzy.

This measured pace is more appropriate in the second half, where one gets the sense of the earth lumbering out of winter. Here Mata has grasped the natural force of Le Sacre, although with a tempo slower than it’s generally taken. Biting, fierce brasses and woodwinds are played against thudding percussion, and imposed slower tempo creates a massive, monumental sound. I heard instrumental voices in this recording I never knew were in the score – some trumpet parts, for instance, and incredible pianissimos that suddenly explode. Mata’s Sacre bears his emerging style as a conductor-elegance with room for the primitive. This is a Sacre worth listening to repeatedly. So is Mata.


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