The five works on this engaging disc from the RNCM Wind Orchestra are all rooted in the strong Spanish or South and Central American band tradition, though we owe the existence of three of them – Rodrigo’s Adagio and both pieces by Villa-Lobos – to commissions from the American Wind Symphony Orchestra of Pittsburgh, while a fourth, Per la flor del lliri blau, is Rodrigo’s own 1984 arrangement of an orchestral work written some 50 years previously.
The music itself is uneven. Villa-Lobos’s Concerto grosso meanders a bit, particularly in its big prelude-and-fugue finale, when placed beside the tauter Fantasia em três movimentos. Per la flor del lliri blau – based on a Valencian ballad about three brothers, who search for a magic healing flower, then turn on each other when they find it – is imposing in its narrative sweep, but the arrangement is densely and unvaryingly scored until we reach the closing funeral march, when the relentless brass panoplies give way to sorrowing woodwind phrases over a rocking harp ostinato.
The performances, though, are consistently good, and the playing is fresh and exciting throughout. Clark Rundell and Mark Heron share the conducting honours. Heron tackles the two Rodrigo pieces with considerable flair. He can’t quite disguise the sense of overload in Per la flor del lliri blau but both the way he ratchets up the cumulative tension and the precision of the RNCM brass are thrilling. Elegant woodwind, and a melody that echoes the slow movement of the Concierto de Aranjuez, open the Adagio, though its title proves something of a misnomer, since the melody’s serene course is suddenly interrupted by jazzy brass and percussion riffs.
Rundell, meanwhile, conducting the pair of works by Villa-Lobos, is keenly alert to their complex instrumentation and constantly shifting textures and rhythms. The solo quartet in the Concerto grosso play with exemplary poise and plenty of wit, particularly in their intricately crafted quadruple cadenzas. Fantasia em três movimentos is particularly fine with its chattering woodwind and suave brass. Rundell also conducts Chapultepec, Carlos Chávez’s arrangement of popular songs from the Mexican revolution, which forms the closing track and serves as a bravura encore to what has gone before. Exhilaratingly done, it rounds off an entertaining and most enjoyable disc.