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Latin Winds
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Per la flor del lliri blau (For the Blue Lily Flower) (1934) [17:40]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Concerto Grosso for Woodwind Quartet and Wind Orchestra (1959) [16:53]
Adagio for Wind Orchestra (1966) [9:50]
Fantasia em três movimentos (1958) [12:29]
Carlos CHÁVEZ (1899-1978)
Chapultepec (1935) [8:45]
Amy Yule (flute), Amy Roberts (oboe), Marcus Norman (clarinet), Sam Brough (bassoon)
Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra/Clark Rundell, Mark Heron
rec. RNMCM Concert Hall, Manchester, 2017
CHANDOS CHAN10975 [66:18]

For anyone who associates wind bands of all kinds with dodgy tuning and even dodgier repertoire, this recording is the ideal corrective (not that that view has always been unjustified!). Here is a programme of sophisticated and often beautiful music, played with style and precision by the students of the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra.

The RNCM has long had a fine reputation for music of this genre, dating back to the 70s and 80s with Philip Jones and Timothy Reynish, and more recently with the two outstanding conductors featured on this recording – Clark Rundell and Mark Heron.

We learn from the booklet notes that there is a ‘strong tradition in Latin America of the wind band’, and I know from my own experience that in many parts of Spain, especially Valencia, wind bands and ensembles play an important part in popular culture. So on this disc we have the music of a Spaniard, Joachín Rodrigo, a Brazilian, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and a Mexican, Carlos Chávez. All five works are emphatically worth hearing, beginning with Rodrigo’s Per la flor del lliri blau (For the Blue Lily), his first major orchestral work. It is in reality a fairly extended symphonic poem, based on a Valencian ballad of three brothers and their tragic quest for the eponymous blue lily.

Rodrigo wrote the piece for orchestra in 1934, then made this wind orchestra re-scoring no less than fifty years later in 1984. I have to say it works very well in this version; it’s a dramatic piece, with some compelling episodes of powerful galloping music, and it made me want to hear it in its original scoring too. Mark Heron steers his young players confidently through the considerable technical demands of the work, and the occasional split note in horns or trumpets does nothing to undermine the power of the music.

Villa-Lobos’ Concerto Grosso is one of his last works, completed in 1959, the year of his death. It is a piece of great charm, beautifully written for the medium, as one would expect from the many other works involving wind instruments. The writing for the ‘concertino’ of four woodwind is wholly idiomatic, while the percussion add generous amounts of ‘local colour’ in the more fully scored moments.

All three movements are delightful; but the finale, a prelude and fugue, is particularly splendid, and brings some stunning playing from the RNCM musicians, especially in the fugue, with its jagged subject. Again the soloists distinguish themselves, with Sam Brough characterising his bassoon cadenza strongly, and Amy Roberts’ oboe tone shining throughout.

The title of the next piece, Rodrigo’s ‘Adagio’, is misleading; although it starts slowly, it has sections of tremendous vigour and impetus. The horn parts in the quick music prove a bridge too far for the young players – most professionals would be severely taxed by them – but the essential characteristic Spanish idiom still emerges strongly, and the work makes a powerful impact.

The Villa-Lobos piece that follows, the Fantasia em três movimentos of 1958 is the weightiest work in this collection. That’s’ not to say that this is ‘difficult’ music; the austerity of the opening Andante quasi Adagio is immediately offset by the quicksilver Allegretto scherzando that follows. The finale, a complex movement in several sections and tempi, brings a satisfying conclusion; this is music of real symphonic stature, and it’s very hard to understand why it was greeted with such apparent indifference in its first performance in Pittsburgh, such is the brilliance of Villa-Lobos’ command of this medium.

Carlos Chávez’ gloriously witty suite Chapultepec (named after the central park in Mexico City) is an utter treat to complete this fine disc. It consists of arrangements of music well-known to Chávez’ compatriots; a march – I believe ‘toe-tapping’ is the description I am straining for – by Codina; then a lachrymose waltz by Campodónico (Mexican waltz-maestro) with the RNCM trumpeters weeping through their instruments; and a final popular marching song of the Mexican Revolution. Written in 1935, this is hugely entertaining stuff, imbued with the same spirit that you find in Les Six or the works of the young Shostakovich.

Congratulations to all involved in this superb and enterprising issue, perhaps most of all to the brilliant young musicians of the RNCM. Manchester rules!

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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