VILLA-ROJO: Concierto plateresco; Concierto 2; Serenata – Hansjorg Schellenberger, oboe/ Asier Polo, cello/ Orquesta de Camera Reina Sofia/ Nicolas Chumachenco, conductor – Naxos 8.570443, 49:55 ***:
Jesus Villa-Rojo is a 68-year old Spanish composer who is considered one of the leading lights in contemporary Spanish classical music. He also has been very active in the science of music, exploring new concepts of sonorities for instruments and research in the area of graphical notation. He was educated in Madrid and Italy, and his works (over 200 of them) have been performed all over the world. This is my first exposure to him, thanks to Naxos’s “Spanish Classics” series. My reactions are decidedly mixed.
The Renaissance aspects of the Concierto plateresco (an architectural style of the period), actually his Oboe Concerto, is a highly ornamented work that states its themes but steadfastly refuses to engage in any true (or perhaps traditional) sense of development by allowing the soloist exceptional space in Spanish-like flavoring, leading the charge in the declaration of the melodic material, yet remaining curiously uninvolved with the orchestral accompaniment – at times seems arbitrary, static, and only in the last few minutes interactive with the soloist. I found it rather disparate and somewhat diffusive, though I cannot criticize the wonderful Mr. Schellenberger’s performance.
The Serenata (2004) tries to reconnect with the past by using a string orchestra that plays in a manner light in feeling, luminous, and undemanding. In the last area I fear it fails somewhat, for though this is a serenade, it has its demanding moments, and few enjoying cheese and fine wine on a lawn of brightest summer evening will be able to countenance some of the dissonances and rather turgidly tragic moments—these caveats aside, it has many interesting moments. The earlier Concierto 2 for cello and orchestra dates from 1983, and sort of sets the tone for the composer’s subsequent work. Personally I find it the most engaging piece on this disc, definitely the most personal (the opening cadenza reminds me of Schelomo) and full of dramatic sensibilities absent the other works here. Every note has meaning, and the whole is delivered to us through the expressive nuances of cellist Asier Polo (former student of Maria Kliegel), who has an innate understanding of the Spanish and even more international influences here (and that even includes Dvorak, though in a somewhat masked form). To me this work saves the disc, which otherwise holds minimal interest for me. Sound and performances are excellent in all regards, and the low price makes the acquisition of a fine contemporary concerto painless. Your call.
— Steven Ritter