Sur, which means "south" in Spanish, is certainly an appropriate title for this recent release by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. All of the music it contains is from far south of the border.
Symphonic audiences in Fort Worth and Dallas have probably had more exposure to Latin music than most American audiences, thanks to its championship by Miguel Harth-Bedoya in Fort Worth and the late Eduardo Mata in Dallas.
Still, the composers represented here are hardly household names to Norteamericanos, and their compositions are far from familiar, though each has been played several times in Bass Hall. That makes this disc a real ear-opener, with quite a few surprises.
The five composers spotlighted on the disc represent four South American countries: Chile (Soro), Argentina (Benzecry), Peru (Garrido-Lecca and Rebagliati) and Colombia (Mejía).
The first corrective supplied by the disc is any notion that there is one cohesive South American musical style. There is great variety here, and if you want to play the game of guessing what pioneering composers most influenced the styles of these artists, you're going to have quite a list.
At the conservative end of the spectrum is the final track of the recording, Rebagliati's charming Peruvian Rhapsody. It's the oldest composition, dating from 1868, and many of its passages sound like they are from an Italian operatic overture of the Donizetti era (though Peruvian, Rebagliati was born in Italy). It has some pretty melodies and is full of high spirits.
Strikingly different is the modernistic Colors of the Southern Cross, by Benzecry. He is his own man, but with a little imagination one can hear some Stravinsky of the Rite of Spring era and even hints of the music of Edgard Varèse. There are various gyrations, pounding drums, twitterings and some deep, ominous Fafneresque rumblings. I liked it.
Perhaps the most immediately appealing work of the five is Mejía's Little Suite, which is melodically inspired, gentle in nature and sounds like something Tchaikovsky might have produced if he had lived a few decades later and emigrated to Colombia.
There's really not a great deal here that would immediately alert the unwary that this is Latin music, though the third of Soro's Three Chilean Airs with its upbeat rhythms or the vaguely Coplandesque sounds of the second movement of Garrido-Lecca's Symphonic Tableaux might be clues.
The five compositions were recorded at live performances in Bass Hall in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The sound is impressive.
The recording is a project of Caminos del Inka, a nonprofit organization devoted to disseminating the musical legacy of the Americas. Harth-Bedoya is its founder.