On the Spanish Classics series, we find an emphasis on the use of string orchestra by Jesíºs Villa-Rojo. Concierto plateresco for oboe and strings, opens with a real ear-catching burst in the orchestra. The rest of the concerto never quite reaches the same provocative color, but the lyricism and beauty (well-played by Hansjōrg Schellenberger, soloist) sustain interest in the piece. The Serenata for string orchestra has a quirky formal structure that plays out a single trajectory through three subsections. Concierto 2 for cello and string orchestra (this is version B) is, to my ears, the most macho sounding piece on the disc. The soloist, Asier Polo, is rough and aggressive. The cello’s lines struggle with the ensemble and fight its way into the primary material. This concerto has a great energy to it that propels the action through each movement.
Volume 17 of the English Song Series contains four song cycles by William Alwyn: Mirage and Six Nocturnes for baritone and piano; Seascapes for soprano, treble recorder, and piano; and Invocations for soprano and piano. I found each cycle contained rich melodic content and dramatic meat for the soloists but I found that, all stacked together, the tone of each song cycle rarely changed. Any one of these cycles would be lovely on their own programmed with other pieces. As a single disc, I found the musical materials too similar and static. The Seascapes really leapt off the disc and into my ears, mainly due to the effective use of the treble recorder. Again, each song of each cycle has lovely material and treatment of the material, it was just Alwyn Overload to my ears.
The two Scí¨nes historiques and the King Christian II Suite by Jean Sibelius grace this final selection. I found these pieces very enjoyable and well played by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The music is a little “Sibelius-lite” to me, without the same depth and repeated listening interest contained in his symphonies. There are some unmistakable Sibelius moments, particularly in the orchestration. Each work is rather darkly scored and there are some great brass-chord-fades-to-growing-activity-in-the-woodwinds transitions that show Sibelius is cultivating some of his personal quirks. My favorite tracks on the disc were the “Festivo” finale from the first Scí¨nes historiques and the gut wrenching “Elegie” from King Christian II.