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Phillip Scott
Fanfare, July 2012

El Rio de las Siete Estrellas…is a tone poem…It is atmospherically scored, with a particularly lovely languid flute solo at the beginning. The Suite Avileña is a series of symphonic impressions of the coastal mountain El Avileña…Here Castellanos uses genuine popular song melodies amid the sprightly Latin dance rhythms.

This is extremely well-crafted music—Castellanos knew how to orchestrate to maximum effect—and Wagner and the Venezuelan orchestra play it with commitment and flair. The sound is spacious and full, one of Naxos’s better-balanced orchestral recordings. This disc is worth keeping for its pure escapism. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, May 2012

Santa Cruz de Pacairigua (1954)…is a fully-fledged masterpiece. The best comparison might be An American in Paris: jaunty, broadly merry, with an episodic feel that is in fact deceptive. Like An American in Paris, Santa Cruz is in fact particularly well-developed, with most of the material deriving from the very first solo trumpet line (0:01-0:06); again like the Gershwin work, there are central slow episodes of more romantic character—the strings send up chills at 7:50. In these slower moments, Castellanos begins setting the stage for his grand finale: first, insistent drumming underlines the introduction of a proper hymnal tune, representing the actual church denoted in the title; then a wild, joyous dance erupts. By the end, the unbridled revelry will meet the very bridled hymn tune in a union that’s absolutely thrilling.

El Río de las Siete Estrellas (1946)…builds very satisfyingly from a flute-dominated nocturne at the beginning to more clearly folk-influenced music, with splendorous brass and cymbal crashes by the end.

Rounding out this…selection is the Suite Avileña (1947), five movements based on pre-existing Venezuelan folk melodies, including the chants of flower vendors, children’s nursery rhymes, and even—briefly, in a fourth movement dance episode—‘Adeste Fideles’. The third, ‘Nocturno,’ is an especially striking combination of serenade on the cuatro (a Caribbean variant on the guitar), mournful noises from the woodwinds, and creepy night-time effects by the celesta.

Have I emphasized enough how excellent this music is? It’s not just good ‘nationalistic’ music; it’s plain old good music. Suite Avileña is an enchanting set of short works, and Santa Cruz ought to be a repertory staple of orchestras anywhere, skillfully crafted and intelligently developed underneath a thick, brash layer of dance rhythms and sheer orchestral exuberance. The orchestra has all the chops, character, and panache required…The recording is generally good, with an excellent sound stage… © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, April 2012

The main work on the disc is the Suite Avileña, which falls into five, impressionistic and evocative movements. Castellanos orchestrates very colourfully as heard right from the start in the Avileña section. Incidentally this is a coastal, mountain area between Caracas and the Caribbean shoreline. Some of the melodies are borrowed from flower vendors heard in his nearby street. The second La Ronda de Niños gives the composer a chance to incorporate some children’s songs. The third, a fascinating Nocturno, includes some still and warm harmonies in the strings against the strumming of a group of cuatros—the cuatro is a four-stringed guitar. Wonderful stuff.

The previous year had seen the arrival of an even more nationalistic work El Río de las Siete Estrellas (The River of the Seven Stars). There’s a beautifully orchestrated impressionistic start rising to the appearance of the Venezuelan National Anthem at its climax, thus indicating “the final liberation from the Spanish Conquest”. I should add that the Venezuelan orchestra play with verve, enthusiasm and obvious understanding. There is no question of anything other than an ideal rendition of such an otherwise un-heard score.

…by 1954 we find a composer fully attuned to his fate and style. You can hear this in the work which opens the CD, Santa Cruz de Pacairigua. Here one encounters the language of Villa-Lobos, especially in the fantasy-like formal designs of the Chõros. Castellanos also touches on the powerfully rhythmic world of the Mexican Silvestre Revueltas, with its fantastic syncopations. This is the composer’s most performed work and one can see why. It is exuberant and brash but also has several contrasting romantic melodies.

The recording is close and vivid and all of the subtle orchestral moments are also clearly audible.

I am hoping that Naxos will pursue a follow-up disc of Castellanos’ later works or some of his choral pieces…meanwhile buy this anyway and have some fun. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

David Hurwitz, March 2012

it’s all good fun, and the performances, by the only team in town likely familiar with the music, are vital, confident, and unapologetically gutsy. Jan Wagner wisely keeps things moving and lets the orchestra strut its stuff. A nice discovery, this. © 2012 Read complete review

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, February 2012

Conductor Jan Wagner gets stunning performances of this little-known music from the Venezuelan Symphony Orchestra. His attention to rhythmic as well as dynamic detail in the two tone poems, and sensitive handling of the suite guarantee these luxuriant scores never become overromanticized.

Calling for extensive percussion sections with Latin-American exotica, these brilliantly orchestrated pieces have the potential for some awesome sonics. The recordings are accordingly impressive, projecting a broad but sunken soundstage in a moderately reverberant acoustic. …the overall orchestral timbre is very pleasing with no digital glare. © 2012 Classical Lost and Found Read complete review, January 2012

this work…is carefully constructed and well orchestrated…The Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela under Jan Wagner plays all the music idiomatically and with understanding and enthusiasm. © 2012 Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2012

Little known outside of the Americas, the composer, Evencio Castellanos, was one of the most influential working in Venezuela in the first half of the 20th century. From a musical background, and slowly working his way from a church organist to become one of the nation’s most important teachers, he was partially responsible for the growth of music in Venezuela, a movement that has recently become highly fashionable in Europe. Though educated in classical composition, it was his collection of Venezuelan popular music that formed the basis of his symphonic music. Opening with one of his best known works—the highly coloured and vivacious Santa Cruz de Pacairigua—we are immersed in the percussion effects that are much loved in South American music; the folksy trumpet, quirky rhythms, and a band seemingly mixed up in the festive scene. If you enjoy the much better known music of Ginastera, you will love this. Composed eight years earlier, in 1948, El Rio de las Siete Estrellas (The River of Seven Stars) is based on a mythical story of the beginnings of Venezuela, and like the previous work it equates to a tone poem. The Suite Avilena from the previous year is a series of five pictures painting scenes on or around the coastal mountain, El Avila. They mainly use pastel colours and take their lineage from French Impressionism, and though the much informative sleeve note assures us they use national folk music, you will have a surprise when the Christmas carol, Adeste Fideles appears. The large Venezuela Sinfonica—which originates back in 1930—is an ensemble of high quality and they have been splendidly recorded. We need lots more South American music from them.

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