'Mexican Odyssey': A Journey Too Far

Saturday, November 8, 2008

On Thursday night at the Harman Center for the Arts, the Post-Classical Ensemble closed its latest tribute to the little-known history of Mexican music. The concert, appropriately titled "The Mexican Odyssey," sprawled to an epic length of three hours by wandering all over the historical landscape and lingering in many places, calling to mind the words "too much of a good thing."

Much could have been omitted, including the set of baroque sacred pieces by Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, already heard on an associated concert last weekend and not up to professional standards as performed by the Georgetown University Chamber Singers. We also could have done with fewer of the several piano works performed with more daring than virtuosic polish by Pedro Carboné. The same is true of the many guitar pieces by Carlos Chávez and Manuel Ponce, presented with greater accuracy and delectable, if occasionally cautious, flair by Roberto Limón. The evening was further extended by narration offered not only by the group's artistic director, Joseph Horowitz, but also by Gregorio Luke, a lecturer on Latin American art.

All of this ultimately detracted from the real attractions of the program, more contemporary works for chamber ensemble. Mario Lavista's "Three Secular Dances" explored otherworldly sounds of the cello, performed ably by Evelyn Elsing with the sotto voce but frenetic shadowing of pianist Naoko Takao. Ana Lara's "Serenata" was a noise collision for 10 instruments, but by the time we reached Silvestre Revueltas's masterpiece "Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca," part of the audience had bolted. An announced post-concert discussion seemed like unnecessary sadism.

-- Charles T. Downey

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