State Symphony of Mexico missing homegrown flavor

State Symphony of Mexico missing homegrown flavor at Valley Performing Arts Center appearance in Northridge

One has to marvel at the longevity of the team of Enrique Bátiz and his Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de México, who paid a visit to the Los Angeles region toward the end of their U.S. tour over the weekend. Bátiz founded this orchestra —whose home base is the city of Toluca — in 1971, and except for a seven-year break between 1983 and 1990, he has been the music director ever since.

They stopped in Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa on Thursday, the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge on Friday and the Haugh Performing Arts Center in Glendora on Saturday. I caught the Northridge concert, which seemed to offer the most idiomatic program for a touring orchestra from Mexico —three Spanish pieces and a rarely played piano concerto by Mexico's Manuel Ponce.

But it was a strange evening, for this was not a lineup that would allow a touring orchestra to show off much. Three of the four works were concertos; the only orchestral components were some pleasant yet inconsequential arrangements of three Granados Spanish Dances of which only Dance No. 6 showed snap and life.

At 72, Bátiz struck a dignified, austere posture, letting his baton arm do almost all the directing in sharp, metronomic strokes. The ensemble sound within the sympathetic VPAC acoustics was smooth and generally unified, with a dark richness at times, but not anything that one could pinpoint as unique in character.

Guitarist Alfonso Moreno and Bátiz are another long-standing team; they made some important recordings of all of Rodrigo's guitar concertos decades ago. Unfortunately, the partnership seemed a little frayed on this night in Rodrigo's signature piece, "Concierto de Aranjuez," with reticent, not always technically secure playing from Moreno. Only in his flamenco-flavored encore, Manuel Serrapi's "Aires Moriscos," could Moreno coax a richer, more resonant timbre from his instrument.

The playlist after intermission was more or less a showcase for the 24-year-old Russian pianist Irina Chistiakova, who barnstormed her way fluidly through Ponce's concerto and competently handled Falla's de facto piano concerto "Nights in the Gardens of Spain." Any Mexican ingredients in the Ponce piece, promised in the program notes, weren't audible underneath the veneer of lush, imitation-Liszt grandeur.

In the Falla, the energy level of the performance seemed to drain away as the piece progressed. There were no encores; something homegrown and swinging like Moncayo's "Huapango" — which they did in Costa Mesa the night before — would have hit the spot.

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