HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS: Complete Choros and Bachianas Brasileiras – Soloists/Sao Paulo Sym. Orch./John Neschling & Robert Minczuk – BIS (7 CDs)

by | Sep 6, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS:  Complete Choros and Bachianas Brasileiras =  Introduction to the Choros for guitar and orchestra;  Choros Nos. 1-12;  Two Choros (bis) for violin and cello;  Bachianas Brasileiras Nos. 1-9;  Quinteto em forma de Choros for flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet and bassoon; Five Preludes; Suite populaire bresilienne; Twelve Etudes – Fabio Zanon, guitar / Cristina Ortiz , piano / Jean Louis Steuerman, piano / Donna Brown, soprano / Members of the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet with Nigel Shore, cor anglais/ Anders Miolin, guitar / Choir of Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra / Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra / John Neschling (Choros) & Robert Minczuk (BB) — BIS (7CDs) BISCD1830-32; 8:44:53 total ***** [Distr. by Qualiton]:

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), like Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst in England and Bela Bartok in Hungary, collected his country’s music of the people and included it boldly in his works. This magnificent and generous collection from BIS – five of the CDs play for around the 80-minute mark – includes the twelve Choros and nine Bachianas Brasileiras, as well as a CD’s worth of the complete works for guitar solo – the majority written for the great Andres Segovia, and other items – all for the cost of three CDs!

The Choros date from the 1920s and are as varied a collection of pieces under one umbrella as can be envisaged.  Deriving from the Portuguese word chorar meaning “to weep”, the choros originally were based on European dances, waltzes, polkas and so forth and grew up in Rio de Janeiro.  As collected by Villa-Lobos, the Choros are a mix of popular music from urban Brazil, music brought to Brazil by slaves from Africa, chants and rhythms from native Indian tribes, and music brought to Brazil from Europe. These range from works for one or two instruments lasting some few minutes, to large-scale ones for full orchestra, some including voice as well.  And what a rich and rewarding mix this is!

The collection opens with the Introduction to the Choros for guitar and orchestra, written in 1929 after the cycle had been finished, and this aptly sets the scene for hearing the cycle, and quotes themes to come. The 11th Choros for piano and orchestra, is the most sizeable, lasting over an hour, and gets a magnificent performance from the energetic and excellent Cristina Ortiz, who contributes as well the 5th Choros, a five minute piece for piano solo. The 3rd and 10th Choros include a chorus, the 3rd men only, whose colours impress greatly. Also included is the Quintet in Choros Form, played by the Berlin Philharmonic Quintet, a delighful nine minutes’ worth.

The orchestral Choros are played by the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra, a very fine group indeed in all departments, under their recent chief conductor, John Neschling. Neschling, born in Rio de Janeiro, is the great-nephew of Arnold Schoenberg, and has been responsible in part for the high standards achieved by the orchestra, and it is sad his tenure has now ended.

Anders Miolin also gives a performance of the Choros No. 1 for guitar solo as part of his CD of all of Villa-Lobos’s works for guitar, the composer’s second instrument after the cello. Rightly included in this box, this music is strongly related to both the Choros and Bachianas; the Suite Populaire collects several choros together, and one of the Preludes is a Homage to Bach. Miolin is given a live sound in the Furuby Church in Sweden with its pleasant acoustic very well captured.

Roberto Minczuk was principal guest conductor of the Sao Paolo Symphony and during this time recorded the Bachianas Brasileiras. These homages to Bach and the music of Brazil date from 1930 to 1945 and have been better known than the Choros, partly due to Villa-Lobos’s own recording made in France for EMI in the middle 1950s, a fine set of historic interest. [I have it and will attest to that…Ed.]

This set includes both versions of the 4th, one for orchestra and the other for piano solo, and both of the 9th, one for orchestra, the other for a capella choir. Piano writing in the 4th is on the thick side, but Jean Louis Steuerman does what he can to produce a transparent sound; he is the pianist in the 3rd, a successful work, pretty much a half-hour piano concerto.

For the two Bachianas for cello orchestra, the first dedicated to Pablo Casals, the cellists of the Sao Paolo Symphony are joined by Antonio Meneses and make an altogether beautiful and magical sound. The popular 5th Bachianas has the soprano solo Donna Brown whose timbre is just right for this music. As popular is the 2nd whose last movement, The Countryman’s Little Train, rattles along in a manner as far from Pacific 231 as is possible. Villa-Lobos imitates bird calls, too; listen for the bellbird in the 4th.  Also most effective is one of the most sizeable in the cycle, the 7th for full orchestra, with the thrumming of guitars imitated by the strings in the first movement, and an energetic fugue with which to end.  Again, Sao Paolo Symphony excels in beauty of tone, energy in performance and tight ensemble, Roberto Minczuk getting a reading of the highest quality.

The Choros and Bachianas were recorded from 2002 to 2006 in the Sala Sao Paolo, a magnificent concert hall to which the orchestra moved under John Neschling in 1999. BIS’s engineers have done a superb job, capturing an airy sound with depth. The biggest of the climaxes for full orchestra are accommodated without stress, and the lightest moments figure with all detail. With playing of this quality, accompanied by very fine sonics, this set deserves nothing less than five stars.

This set has given me so much pleasure in its variety its review is several weeks late!


CD 1:
1. Introduction to the Choros for guitar and orchestra 13’32

Two Choros (bis) for violin and cello   
2. I. Moderé 4’24
3. II. Lent – Moins – Lent 4’17
4. Choros No.2 for flute and clarinet 2’42
5. Choros No.3, ‘Pica-Pau’ for male choir and wind instruments 3’32
6. Choros No.10, ‘Rasga o Coração’ for orchestra and mixed choir 13’01
7. Choros No.12 for orchestra 37’01

CD 2:
1. Choros No.6 for orchestra 24’49
2. Choros No.1 for guitar 5’09
3. Choros No.8 for large orchestra and 2 pianos 20’00
4. Choros No.4 for 3 horns and trombone 5’31
5. Choros No.9 for orchestra 24’19

CD 3:
Choros No.11 for piano and orchestra   
1. Allegro preciso ma non troppo (attacca) 21’02
2. Adagio (attacca) 15’39
3. Allegro moderato 26’09
4. Choros No.5, ‘Alma Brasileira’ for piano 5’02
5. Choros No.7, ‘Settimino’ for winds, violin and cello 9’15

CD 4:
Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 for soprano and orchestra of violoncelli   
1. I. Ária (Cantilena) 6’26
2. II. Dança (Martelo) 4’33

Bachianas Brasileiras No.4 (version for piano solo)   
3. I. Prelúdio (Introdução) 7’00
4. II. Coral (Canto do sertão) 3’50
5. III. Ária (Cantiga) 5’03
6. IV. Dança (Miudinho) 2’55

Bachianas Brasileiras No.6 for flute and bassoon   
7. I. Ária (Choro) 3’37
8. II. Fantasia 5’25

Bachianas Brasileiras No.1 for orchestra of violoncelli   
9. I. Introdução (Embolada) 6’24
10. II. Prelúdio (Modinha) 8’31
11. III. Fuga (Conversa) 4’02

CD 5:
Bachianas Brasileiras No.2 for orchestra   
1. I. Prelúdio (O canto do capadócio) 7’02
2. II. Ária (O canto da nossa terra) 5’21
3. III. Dança (Lembrança do sertão) 5’02
4. IV. Toccata (O trenzinho do caipira) 4’32

Bachianas Brasileiras No.3 for piano and orchestra   
5. I. Prelúdio (Ponteio) 7’00
6. II. Fantasia (Devaneio) 7’04
7. III. Ária (Modinha) 7’24
8. IV. Toccata (Picapau) 6’00

Bachianas Brasileiras No.4 (version for orchestra)   
9. I. Prelúdio (Introdução) 4’06
10. II. Coral (Canto do sertão) 4’27
11. III. Ária (Cantiga) 5’55
12. IV. Dança (Miudinho) 3’51

CD 6:
Bachianas Brasileiras No.7 for orchestra   
1. I. Prelúdio (Ponteio) 7’14
2. II. Giga (Quadrilha caipira) 4’23
3. III. Toccata (Desafio) 6’59
4. IV. Fuga (Conversa) 7’07

Bachianas Brasileiras No.9 (version for string orchestra)   
5. I. Prelúdio 2’06
6. II. Fuga 6’07

Bachianas Brasileiras No.9 (version for choir a cappella)   
7. I. Prelúdio 2’00
8. II. Fuga 6’34

Bachianas Brasileiras No.8 for orchestra   
9. I. Prelúdio 5’16
10. II. Ária (Modinha) 7’37
11. III. Toccata (Catira batida) 5’35
12. IV. Fuga 5’14

13. Quinteto em forma de Choros 9’44

CD 7:
Five Preludes for guitar   
1. I. Andantino expressivo 4’39
2. II. Andantino 3’01
3. III. Andante 3’15
4. IV. Lento 3’06
5. V. Poco animato 3’32

Suite populaire brésilienne for guitar   
6. Mazurka-choro 2’57
7. Schottish-choro 3’27
8. Valsa-choro 3’49
9. Gavota-choro 5’02
10. Chorinho 4’35

Twelve Études for guitar   
11. I. Allegro non troppo 2’21
12. II. Allegro 1’45
13. III. Allegro moderato 1’39
14. IV. Andante 3’47
15. V. Andantino 3’16
16. VI. Poco allegro 2’04
17. VII. Très animé 2’41
18. VIII. Modéré 2’55
19. IX. Très peu animé 3’08
20. X. Très animé 3’41
21. XI. Lent 4’07
22. XII. Animé 2’40

23. Choros No.1 for guitar 4’44

— Peter Joelson

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