• Cuban musicians have an ability to switch from classical to jazz to salsa with a chameleon versatility the rest of us can only envy. No boundaries, no inhibitions and a sense of rhythm that sets them free. Arming herself with bags of flair and a passion for the country and its music, British horn player Sarah Willis has joined forces with young Cuban colleagues to make an exuberant disc: Mozart y Mambo (Alpha Classics). Willis’s generous musicianship is stamped on this entire project, in which Mozart (the E flat horn concerto, K447, and the single movements K370b and K371) and mambo are gloriously joined at the hip.
Hearing Willis as a pure-toned, lyrical soloist in Mozart – listen for the wild cadenzas – is a novelty in itself, but the way this Berlin Philharmonic star player yokes her own classical tradition to the improvisatory skills of the Cuban musicians is exploratory and honest. The Havana Lyceum Orchestra (conductor José Antonio Méndez Padrón) were lucky to collaborate with one of the world’s best players. Every CD sale generates money for the Instruments for Cuba fund. And there’s a documentary about the project too.
• A new recording of William Alwyn’s Miss Julie (Chandos) follows last year’s revelatory Barbican concert performance, given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo, with a magnificent quartet of singers: Anna Patalong, Rosie Aldridge, Samuel Sakker and – stepping in at short notice though you’d never have guessed – Benedict Nelson. Many of us were left asking why we don’t hear this intense, mid-1970s retelling of Strindberg more often. Alwyn’s gifts as a film composer translate stirringly to opera. The performers capture the work’s chilling immediacy, variously crazed, romantic and seedy, full of dissonant waltz and voluptuous orchestration. The tragic relationship between Patalong’s fervent Miss Julie and Nelson’s serpentine Jean, the valet, is winningly conveyed. Every word of the English libretto (Alwyn’s own) is clear. Highly recommended.
• With its vast orchestral forces and moments of slap-bang-wallop excess, the music of the Italian Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) has always stood in a category of its own. Colourful is too shy a word for it. Wildly, madly techni-colourful and succulently overblown might just do. Respighi’s best known work is the Roman trilogy, Fontane di Roma, Pini di Roma and Feste Romane, brought to dazzling new life by the conductor John Wilson and his historic recording orchestra Sinfonia of London (Chandos), relaunched two years ago for special projects.
The background to this music gives a telling perspective: the troubled premiere of Fountains of Rome was given during the first world war; Pines of Rome (1923-4) was written in the ascendant years of Mussolini (a fan of Respighi’s); Roman Festivals, complete with organ and army of percussion, was first heard in New York in 1929 to mixed, some pretty rude, reviews. Deprived as we are of big orchestras, this disc is a joy: massive, audacious and vividly played.