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VILLA-LOBOS: Symphony No. 12; Uirapuru; Mandu-çarará – Sao Paulo Sym. and Children’s Choir/ Isaac Karabtchevsky – Naxos

VILLA-LOBOS: Symphony No. 12; Uirapuru; Mandu-çarará – Sao Paulo Sym. and Children’s Choir/ Isaac Karabtchevsky – Naxos 8.573451, 57:42 (4/14/15) ****:

Villa-Lobos’ Symphony No. 12, his last, was completed on his 70th birthday and shows no lessening of his powers, marrying symphonic craftsmanship with explosive energy, harmonic richness, and rhythmic vitality; it’s a powerful conclusion for his symphonic canon. Uirapuru is one of his most original works, couched in a modernism that has a very obvious Brazilian sound, while Mandu-Çarará is an inventive, lush, and exciting but little-known secular cantata.

Villa-Lobos is one of South America’s greatest composers; some compare him to Copland who held a similar place in the artistic world for the United States.

For the Sao Paulo Symphony, the music of Villa-Lobos is like coming home and celebrating a native son. They play with exuberance and passion. The program is filled with colorful, evocative music, with striking percussion and Latin rhythms. Happily, none of these works are overly familiar.

The first work on the disc, Uirapuru is an orchestral piece with an elaborate program about the mythical Uirapuru bird in the Amazon jungle.  It’s dedicated to ballet choreographer Serge Lifar. It’s a lovely piece, and certainly reflects the sounds of the Amazon jungle. It’s a difficult piece to play, with odd syncopations, yet the Sao Paulo Symphony plays it perfectly.

The Symphony No. 12 is a grand work, stretching the limits of the conventional symphonic form. It’s seldom performed, so this disc might be your best chance to hear it wonderfully interpreted and recorded. Finally, the disc gives us Mandu çarará, secular cantata for children’s chorus & orchestra. It’s a stunning piece, and quite unlike music I’ve heard before, other than other Villa Lobos compositions.

Lovers of Villa-Lobos will certainly enjoy this disc. Classical novices are also likely to find it a compelling listen. The stereo recording has nice, realistic separations, and the presentation sounds very ‘live’ and it’s not an overly miked recording.

I’d love to hear this in high resolution, but alas, this disc lives as a standard CD. Still, it sounds great as it is. Recommended!
—Mel Martin

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