Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Notable orchestral music from Venezuela

From February 14, 2012:


Most classical music fans know Venezuela as the home of the extraordinary music education scheme El Sistema, which helped to create today's biggest classical music rock-star, the conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Now we're learning more about the mid-20th century classical music traditions in Venezuela upon which El Sistema was based.

Two of the three great Venezuelan composers born between 1915 and 1917 are fairly well known: the guitarist Antonio Lauro and composer/conductor Antonio Estévez, who wrote the famous Cantata Criolla. A third is Evencio Castellanos, a pianist and teacher, and, from the evidence on this new Naxos disc, a writer of impressive orchestral music.

Santa Cruz de Pacairigua from 1954 is a work jammed full of "local colur": folk dances, a medieval church tune, and plenty of percussion, all following a program about the building of a church. The Suite Avilena, written in 1947, contains a series of characteristic pieces representing various locations between Caracas and the sea.

The best work on the disc, though, is the 1946 work El Rio de las Siete Estrellas (The River of the Seven Stars). As often happens with music inspired by a river (Villa-Lobos's Amazonas or Smetana's Moldau, for example) the representation of a strong current provides a structure for programmatic incidents that might otherwise seem unconnected.

I know the conductor Jan Wagner from a Bridge disc of orchestral music by Villa-Lobos, which coincidentally shares many characteristics with this one. The Bridge CD featured the Odense Symphony, which he led before and after the turn of the century. In this new Naxos disc he conducts the excellent Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela, who play quite spendidly for their Danish leader. Wagner makes sure the music sparkles, for these are indeed showpieces, but he takes the time to emphasize Castellanos's more reflective moods. Aaron Copland once complained that Latin American music too often alternated between "the languorously sentimental or the wildly orgiastic mood, with very little in between". Wagner makes sure to present the subtleties that Castellanos, at his very best, does contain.

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