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Julian ORBON (1925 - 1991)
Symphonic Dances (Danses Sinfonicas) (1957)
Three Symphonic Versions (1954)
Concerto Grosso (1961)
Asturias Symphony Orchestra/Maximiano Valdes.
recorded in the Casa Municipal de Cultura, Aviles in 1998. DDD
NAXOS 8.557368 [66í17"]


Naxos has a number of series under way, of which this is belongs to their Spanish Classics line. They have been building up quite an extensive collection of discs, concentrating on out of the way repertoire by out of the way composers. This is no exception, concentrating on the Cuban composer Julian Orbon who although not strictly Spanish, was at least born in Spain in 1925, and moved to Cuba at the age of 15, where he stayed for a significant portion of his life. He was involved with the Castro revolution but being at odds with the ethical and religious beliefs of the regime, eventually moved to Mexico in 1960, where he taught at the National Conservatory.

This disc brings together three of Orbonís major works. They make very pleasant listening on this new recording. Orbonís music is decidedly tonal in nature and is a little reminiscent of watered down Copland with a Spanish idiom.

The Three Symphonic Versions was first performed in 1954 by the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra conducted by Juan Jose Castro. The first movement, Pavana is Coplandesque built on two main themes: the first, takes its inspiration from a pavane by Luis de Milan, a 16th century Spanish composer. The second theme, on cello, introduces us to the insistent Cuban rhythmic sound picture. The second movement, Conductos, is inspired by the music of the Mediaeval French composer, Perotin, and the last movement, Xylophone, is based on Congolese rhythmic ostinato, embellished to add orchestral colour to the African base.

The Symphonic Dances were premiered by Heitor Villa-Lobos in 1957 in Miami, played by the Miami University Orchestra. These brilliant dances typify Orbonís gradual move towards a more Latin-American atmosphere. The first dance, Obertura is repetitive but skilfully so. The second movement, Gregoriana is a daring allegro, based upon plainsong melodies. The third movement, Declamatoria is a slow dance, and the final movement, Danza Final, is Venezuelan in character, orchestrated in glittering colours.

The Concerto Grosso is perhaps the most deeply felt work on this disc, and was initially written for string quartet and orchestra. It was first performed in 1961. It is in the traditional three movements the first being Moderato where the burden is taken first by the orchestra and then by the quartet. The second movement, lento, is one of Orbonís loveliest creations heavy with religious overtones. The final allegro contains parts of themes used in the earlier movements.

Throughout the disc the playing is highly accurate with the rhythms well defined and the colours in the writing portrayed well by the orchestra. That said, that the Asturias Orchestra could have done with a few more run-throughs to capture some abandon in their playing which I am sure would improve these performances.

The orchestra, at times, seems somewhat tentative. A little more spontaneity would have improved matters immensely. Still, we are unlikely to have competitive versions coming along, and so if you like this repertoire, donít hesitate.

John Phillips

See also review by Hubert Culot
This disc was selected as
Bargain Discovery of the Month in January


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