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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, April 2008

This is a good showcase for Villa-Rojo, presenting as it does three works written over three decades in performances that sound as authoritative as could be, are well recorded and intelligently presented. The music itself is ingeniously rooted in a kind of harmonically modernised Renaissance style, to which we could adduce elements of flamenco influence and a fair amount of decorative ornament.

Concierto plasteresco dates from 1997. There are moments during its sixteen-minute length when one is reminded briefly, melodically, of Rodrigo though I wouldn’t suggest that you would find this a remotely pervasive current of influence. The oboe’s evocative and extensive curling lament has its full measure of song and it’s gilded with incident and decorative writing, a mosaic of influence.  There is a slow section from around 7:00 and an arresting string unison figure at 10:50 – moments that perhaps, with their effusive string writing and delight in sonority will perhaps have one thinking of Tippett.

The Serenata is the most recent of the triptych of works here, having been written in 2004. Textures here are light and there’s an intense slow section from which an intensely lyric theme gradually emerges. The Concerto grosso type affiliations again suggest Tippett. He handles the drooping figures with great assurance and ends the work as if enveloped in sleep.

Concierto 2 (Version B) was written for cello and orchestra and is the most complex of the three works. Version B was revised just for string orchestra; I’m assuming that the original version can be heard on Marco Polo 8225135 played by the same soloist here, Asier Polo, but I haven’t heard that recording so can’t be definitive on the point. It is a terse, tense and difficult work to appreciate. The close recording accentuates the opening Lutosławski-like attacks, and Polo’s big vibrato and strenuous chording serves to accentuate and increase the portentous drama of the writing. It’s a mosaic of brittle, brusque and withdrawn writing, full of orchestral suspensions and swingeing attacks, short lived, and terse. The work ends tantalisingly in mid air, unresolved.

Throughout the three works the well-known violinist Nicolás Chumachenco directs with real power and sensitivity and the Orquesta de Cámera Reina Sofía responds with verve. If you’re unfamiliar with the composer don’t start with Concierto 2, which will probably serve as “kill or cure” material for the unwary. At his best Villa-Rojo has a mosaically refined musical imagination, and uses string sonorities with highly effective, sonorous eloquence. But he’s also knotty and that side of him can be felt in the Cello Concerto.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2008

The world knows precious little regarding avant garde Spanish composers, Jesus Villa-Rojo being one its most charismatic and influential figures. Born in 1940, his early adult musical educated took place in Madrid before moving to Italy. Though certainly music of our time which toys with atonality, Villa-Rojo has retained links with the established traditions of Spain. The single movement, Concierto plateresco, for oboe and strings, takes its inspiration from the rich ornamentation that was part of the architectural style in the period known as plasterique. Completed in 1997, with the soloist hardly stopping for breath, it is a work of intense activity where the oboe performs acrobatics at mercurial tempos. Serenata from 2004 is in the mode of a concerto for large string orchestra, its three movements linked with a view to continuity. Pungent harmonies in the outer movements surrounds the slow moving harmonies of the central sleepy adagio, the music slithering around as the work closes. By contrast the Concierto 2 for cello and strings is in three clearly defined movements, the present recording being in a revised version for string accompaniment. It is a virtuoso score that makes many demands on the soloist, the work as a whole being highly commercial. Let me give you a very generalised similarity by describing Villa-Rojo as the Spanish equivalent to Penderecki in his tonal period. German-born Hansjorg Schellenberger has enjoyed a highly successful career as an orchestral oboist, including a period with the Berlin Philharmonic. His nimble playing is excellent, the tonal quality more English than German in its slight acidity. Asier Polo has been one of Spain’s best-known cellists, and has appeared with many of Europe’s leading orchestras. The Orquesta de Camara Reina Sofia is one of Spain’s recent acquisitions, and was soon in demand through Europe. It is a highly accomplished and well balanced group that play the Serenata with a sense of restrained power which is later used in the Concierto 2. The recording is well detailed, but has Polo a little too close to a microphone, the mechanics of his playing often heard.

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