Notes and Editorial Reviews
Evencio Castellanos (1915-84) was a romantic nationalist who wrote colorful, attractive orchestral music liberally laced with folk melodies and rhythms. There is an over-reliance in all three works on simple ostinatos in the percussion, and form is a sometime thing; but the music is brilliant when fast and loud, sweetly songful in more restful sections.
Santa Cruz de Pacairigua has something to do with a church, but you’d never know it. The first six minutes are exhaustingly, relentlessly loud, sort of like El Salón México on crack. The River of the Seven Stars is more reflective and poetic, but not too much, while the Suite is a Christmas-themed collection of folk-like melodies, once again very colorfully
scored (if perhaps a touch kitschy). Never mind, 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. The engineering is perhaps a touch constricted, but certainly good enough to stay out of the way of the splashiest textures and climaxes. A nice discovery, this.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Evencio Castellanos’ brilliant
Santa Cruz de Pacairigua first reached global popularity only a few years ago, when it was taken up by the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela under Gustavo Dudamel. Dudamel and his band recorded it on their CD
Fiesta and took it on tour as a showpiece; when I saw them perform it live the audience went absolutely wild. But full CDs dedicated to Castellanos have been non-existent, until now.
First up is
Santa Cruz de Pacairigua (1954). It’s the only one of Castellanos’ works that’s even slightly well-known, but it 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.
After this nearly anything would be a letdown.
El Río de las Siete Estrellas (1946) has the added handicap of being episodic: the seven stars in the title are represented by the celesta, and they introduce brief musical depictions of moments in Venezuelan history. But it doesn’t really feel disconnected, because of the reprised transitional material and because the music 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 (all-too-short) 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
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. Evencio Castellanos once performed in and conducted the Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela (as did his brother Gonzalo), and he also served on the orchestra’s board of directors and founded an experimental ensemble within it. The band’s credentials are peerless, as are those of Jan Wagner, who has worked with the ensemble for 16 years, tirelessly promoting and recording Venezuelan music for a number of record labels. In the opening pages of
Santa Cruz the orchestra may lack Dudamel’s momentum on Deutsche Grammophon, but from 1:54 on everything is alive and thrilling. The orchestra has all the chops, character, and panache required, although I’d like to hear the Chicago Symphony playing this music. The recording is generally good, with an excellent sound stage, but the trumpet solo which opens the disc seems to stress the microphones a bit, and you’ll need to crank up the sound to really wallow in the Castellanos sound.
Wagner and the orchestra are signed up for two more Naxos discs of Venezuelan music, and my question is: why only two?
-- Brian Reinhart, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Santa Cruz de Pacairigua by Evencio Castellanos
Venezuela Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1954; Venezuela
Avilena Suite by Evencio Castellanos
Venezuela Symphony Orchestra
El rio de las siete estrellas
Avilena Suite: I. Avilena
Avilena Suite: II. La ronda de ninos
Avilena Suite: III. Nocturno
Avilena Suite: IV. Amanecer de Navidad
Avilena Suite: V. Navidad
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