August 13th 2008

Review from January 2004

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Julian ORBÓN (1925 Ė 1991)
Danzas sinfónicas (1957)
Concerto Grosso (1958)
Tres versiones sinfónicas (1954)
Asturias Symphony Orchestra/Maximiano Valdés
Recorded: Casa Municipal de Cultura, Avilés, 1998
NAXOS 8.557368 [66 :17]

Sound Sample:

Xilófonon of Tres versiones sinfónicas here

 

Born in Avilés, Orbón left Spain with his father in 1940 and both settled in Cuba where he started his musical studies and composed his earliest works such as his Symphony in C of 1945. That same year, he was awarded a grant to study in Tanglewood with Aaron Copland. Back in Cuba, he came to disagree with the Castro régime and went into voluntary exile, first in Mexico and later in the States. He died in Miami in 1991.

Orbónís musical progress roughly falls into three different periods. His early music certainly reflects optimism, and remains tonal, colourful and often folk-inflected under de Fallaís influence. The middle period, to which these three pieces belong, is that of maturity. His music, now rather written under Coplandís shadow, is less overtly tonal and its emotional scope considerably widens. The final period is that of disillusionment, and the music becomes more austere and introspective.

Tres visiones sinfónicas and Danzas sinfónicas, that are roughly contemporary, have much in common. The music is colourful, often energetic, rhythmically alert; and very often displays Coplandís influence, as in the second movement Gregoriana of Danzas which turns a plainsong-like tune into a Coplandesque hoe-down or in Pavana (the first movement of Tres versiones) in which a pavan by Luis de Milan is turned into another Copland romp.
Overtura of Danzas sinfónicas here
Gregoriana of Danzas sinfónicas here

The slow movements in both works, however, are generally more personal in expression, be it in the powerful Declamatoria (in Danzas) or the beautiful, meditative Organum (in Tres versiones). Both sets conclude with virile, colourful dances.
Declamatoria of Danzas sinfónicas here
Danza Final of Danzas sinfónicas here

The Concerto Grosso (for string quartet and orchestra) is undoubtedly a major and substantial work for which I retain an undiminished affection for it is the first Orbón work I ever heard (in Mataís recording on Dorian DOR-90178). This mighty piece in three sizeable movements is clearly the peak of Orbůnís middle period. If Coplandís influence is still to be heard, especially in the outer movements, one is also sometimes reminded of Martinůís sprung rhythms permeating much of the melodic material. The slow movement is again a most personal utterance, a long slow processional, often of modal flavour and not without grandeur. It contains some of the most beautiful music ever penned by the composer.
1st Movement of Concerto Grosso here
2nd Movement of Concerto Grosso here
3rd Movement of Concerto Grosso here

Some years ago, Mata recorded both the Concerto Grosso (Dorian DOR-90178) and Tres versiones (Dorian DOR-90179) in fine, beautifully recorded readings. The present orchestra may not be in the same class as Mataís Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela; but I must say that I really enjoyed Valdésí committed, urgent readings which serve the music well.

I urge you to listen to this most welcome and worthwhile release which will hopefully soon be followed by another all-Orbón disc by the same forces, for this still underrated composer unquestionably deserves serious consideration. Recommended.

Hubert Culot