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Lorenzo PALOMO (b. 1938)
Sinfonia Córdoba [33:01]
Fulgores [25:01]
Pablo García López (tenor), Javier Riba (guitar), Ana María Valderrama (violin), Rafael Aguirre (guitar)
Castile and León Symphony Orchestra/Jesús López Cobos.
rec. 2016, Auditorium Miguel Delibes, Valladolid, Spain
NAXOS 8.573326 [58:02]

Naxos have been busy recording all sorts of pieces originating in Iberia, and this is the latest offering to pass my way. Lorenzo Palomo is described in the booklet as being ‘one of Spain’s most internationally admired living composers and is a natural successor to Turina’. Well, whether or not one knows enough to agree with that statement, on the evidence of this CD, Palomo composes tonal music that fills me with modified rapture. Repeated listening to these pieces brings me to the opinion that the Sinfonia is by far the more enjoyable of the two.

‘Fulgores’ (radiant lights) is a concerto for violin, guitar and orchestra, composed in 2011, and has apparently been performed at many venues. The composer certainly demonstrates his abilities as an orchestrator, achieving a very impressive blend of the two instruments, with a vivid contribution by the orchestra, but I find his melodic material wanting. There is a lot of violinistic scrubbing around, and at times I wondered if the idea was to try to make it sound like a guitar. Purely lyrical passages are short to the point of vanishing, and near relentless ostinatos predominate. I found myself tiring of it quite quickly, and at 25 minutes, it is twice as long as its material really supports.

Thankfully, things are different in the Sinfonia Córdoba. Composed in 2015 as a result of a commission from The Spanish Association of Symphony Orchestras, it is essentially a three part symphonic poem, describing the famous Mosque-Cathedral, a walk on the riverbank, and courtyards in the month of May.

The first part incorporates the unusual presence of a tenor, accompanied by the guitar, singing three short folk-poems. He only sings for fewer than 4 minutes of the 17-minute movement, and doesn’t sound totally comfortable. His use of the head-voice at the end seems a little hesitant. The movement begins in subterranean fashion, slowly rising to a brief climax representing sunrise. The music that follows seems to be based on a single theme that is repeated rather too often, although the different orchestrations save it from becoming tiring. In fact, when the brass are brought to the fore the music becomes rather exiting in an almost filmic manner. Eventually, a brief clarinet passage leads to the aforementioned guitar and tenor solo, which is so different from what has gone before that it hardly seems to be part of the same movement, although in between the songs, the composer repeats the theme that has so far dominated matters. Following the singing, the rest of the orchestra gradually joins in, leading to an extended, rather jauntily lyrical, passage for the woodwind. The movement ends in a notable climax for the whole band, again based on the main theme.

The second movement is much shorter than the first – in fact the first movement is longer than the other two combined - and evokes a walk along the banks of the Guadalquivir. It is based on a cantabile song-like theme that is repeated at intervals throughout the piece in varied orchestration.

The third movement is supposed to represent the May festival in Córdoba, in which large crosses are adorned with flowers and used to decorate courtyards. The music becomes rhythmic, dance-like and mildly effervescent – a quality not hitherto found in the entire piece. The coda provides a vigorous and colourful ending to the work.
The recording is good and the orchestral playing is of regional standard, by which I mean that there are one or two moments where some tentativeness and a lack of unanimity in the strings is displayed. Too much should not be made of this, though – it is a minor point, and I thoroughly approve of Naxos’ policy of recording regional bands.

As I finish writing this, I learn of the death of Jesús López Cobos. He was 78 and succumbed to cancer, but was musically active until a short time before his death.

Jim Westhead



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