Here's your classical disc of the week for Dec. 29, 2013. Each week CBC Radio 2's In Concert looks at new classical music releases and selects one recording that you'll want to know about.

Artist: Alvaro Cendoya, piano

Repertoire: Works for solo piano by Manuel María Ponce

Label: Grand Piano

If someone tries to tell you the classical music recording business is dead, don't believe a word of it. You may no longer make your purchases at a real store, and your listening may be mostly online, but the outpouring of new recordings shows no sign of abating.

The reason? It's relatively cheap and easy to make and distribute a spiffy-sounding record these days without the benefit of a big label backer. Just about anyone can, and a surprising number of classical musicians are doing just that.

For the consumer, finding the golden nuggets in this river of material is another matter. There are plenty of misguided vanity projects released any given month, and only a few real stand-outs.

One remarkable new release on the Grand Piano label is devoted to the solo piano music of the Mexican composer Manuel María Ponce performed by the Spanish pianist Alvaro Cendoya.


Alvaro Cendoya performs Ponce's Intermezzo No. 1.

Neither name is particularly well-known. Cendoya has enjoyed a middling career as a piano soloist in Europe and currently teaches at the Basque Conservatory of Music. And Ponce is probably best-known as a composer of studies for the solo guitar and Estrelitta, that slightly sacchrine song from 1912. 

This new disc explores music written throughout the composer's career. Born in 1882, Ponce was a child prodigy who started piano lessons at age 4. By age 9, he was composing (his first opus: March of the Measles). He spent time abroad — in Italy and Berlin when he was in his early 20s, Cuba in his 30s, Paris in his 40s — before returning to Mexico in 1933. He later became something of an establishment figure and was widely admired within his native country.


Alvaro Cendoya performs Ponce's Mazurka in D minor.

Ponce borrowed liberally from Mexican folk music for his compositions. He wrote a series of mazurkas inspired by Chopin, yet each has a decidedly Hispanic accent. He also came under the influence of the major European styles of the time: the Impressionists of France, the modernists of Germany. His voice, though, remained singular.

Cendoya captures the rhythmic swagger and melodic verve that runs through all of these pieces with charming, easy fluency. It's infectious music, beautifully played - a welcome find among the slush pile of recent CDs.


Listen to CBC Radio 2.

posted by Denise Ball on Dec 28, 2013