Mexican-born Spanish composer Jesús Villa-Rojo is founder of the Laboratory for Interpreting Music in Madrid and has served as manager of the Centre for the Diffusion of Contemporary Music; he is also highly regarded as a clarinetist. In the 1970s, Villa-Rojo, who was educated in Italy in addition to Spain, worked with aleatoric procedures, graphic notation, and improvised music; the mid-'80s witnessed a shift toward more controlled composition, an interest in modes, and Spanish traditional forms. Naxos' Villa-Rojo: Concierto plateresco features the Orquestra de Cámera Reina Sofía in three works of Villa-Rojo belong to this later phase of development: the Concierto 2 for cello and strings (1983), Concierto plateresco for oboe and strings (1997), and the Serenata for strings (2004). Renowned oboist Hansjörg Schellenberger is soloist in the Concierto plateresco and cellist Asier Polo is featured in the Concierto 2.
Concierto 2 is the work Villa-Rojo cites as constituting his breakthrough and is performed on this Naxos recording in a revised version, although the nature of the revision isn't made quite clear. It is certainly more interesting than the others; reminiscent of Penderecki at times and containing snatches of pasodoble, Concierto 2 concludes with a Bartókian movement marked Veloce ma scherzando that contains the seed of a fair amount of his further endeavor -- the gradual building of tension, seemingly for its own sake. Concierto plateresco is pleasantly modal, though predominantly nontonal, and features long passages of wandering figures for the solo oboe that never coalesce into a true melody; when the oboe drops out for a quiet passage in the middle, it almost feels like a great big hole has opened up in the texture of the music. The Serenata, composed in observation of the 20th anniversary of the ensemble that plays it here, is a moderately to slowly moving single movement that unfolds in a vaguely tonal but unresolved sense of continuous suspension. It's not bad, but one wants it to go somewhere and release the pressure valve once in awhile to allow for some forward movement. All of Villa-Rojo's music, nevertheless, is well scored and provocative, and Naxos' Villa-Rojo: Concierto plateresco does elicit enough curiosity to make one want to seek elsewhere for other things he's done.