Bring out the maracas - the Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón is venturing into "popera". This compilation of laid-back folk songs from the singer's native country is given some professional polish, thanks to Villazón's florid vocals, ably backed by the Bolívar soloists. Unless of the melancholy variety, Mexican folk songs have a tendency to sound cheesy. Unfortunately, these are no exception. Perhaps it's the frequency with which songs such as Besame Mucho are played, but there is little that even someone of Villazón's stature can add here. While some of the arrangements are pleasant enough, such as the timbale on Veracruz, and some pretty strings on Despedida, it never succeeds in elevating them beyond background music. The timing of its release, at least, is good, with two major anniversaries taking place this year - the centennial of the revolution and the bicentennial of the independence movement. Fans of Villazón's classical work are unlikely to be impressed by such lightweight fare as this, but newcomers might enjoy the jollity.
Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique
Francois Xavier Roth, Les Siècles
(Musicales Actes Sud) Recorded live last year at the Berlioz festival in La Cote St-André (the composer's birthplace), this version of the symphony by Les Siècles, played using period instruments for added authenticity, is not to be missed.
Richard Strauss, Ariadne on Naxos
Richard Armstrong, Scottish Chamber Orchestra
(Chandos) This English-language version of one of Strauss's most successful operas is given a world-class treatment by an excellent cast, supported by the technical brilliance of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.